How important are truth, integrity, and authenticity to you – even at the cost of feeling comfortable and being affirmed?
When it comes to spirituality the journey of awakening to our True Nature,
most of us have a pretty good idea of the essential principles to keep in mind.
Qualities like love, peace, kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and gratitude – you know, those stereotypical feel-good qualities – inevitably spring to mind.
But how often do you hear about the importance of spiritual discernment?
Chances are … probably not that much.
Let’s face it, even just the words “spiritual discernment” have a dry ring to them. They kinda sound like they’ve been taken from some heavy leather-bound book that has been collecting dust on the bookshelf for the past 100 years.
I imagine a stern librarian or an 83-year-old Harvard professor of physics when I think about spiritual discernment.
But don’t let the lack of feel-good vibes make you discount the importance of being discerning on the spiritual path.
Spiritual discernment is the single most essential ‘Sword of Consciousness’ you’ll need to hack your way through the many overgrown forests of Bullshit out there.
So … What is Spiritual Discernment?
Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish between truth and deception on the spiritual path.
That’s it. It’s quite simple.
In Sanskrit, spiritual discernment is called viveka and is said to be the “crowning wisdom” on the spiritual path, allowing us to discover what is real vs. unreal.
Indian sage Patanjali believed that it was spiritual discernment that helped us to achieve a “luminous state,” also known as spiritual illumination or oneness.
In fact, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the cultivation of spiritual discernment is said to be so powerful that it has the ability to destroy ignorance and address the very root of our suffering.
Why Spiritual Discernment is Non-Negotiable
Many people who begin the spiritual awakening path start off with a sprightly skip in their step, innocently assuming that the world of spirituality is a wondrous playground.
There is a beautiful innocence here that reminds me of the Disney movie called Bambi.
Through the magical forest, Bambi skips … until he reaches a clearing where his mother is brutally and mercilessly killed by a hunter.
There are many spiritual niches, teachers, and communities these days where spiritual discernment is neglected, and it reminds me of this Bambi parable.
“Love and light,” “Just go with the flow,” “Trust and allow,” “All is Love,” – you’ll hear this a lot, and certainly, much of it has truth and power.
And yet …
The reality is that the spiritual path is not somehow magically immune to misleading, harmful, or predatory behavior.
The reality is that there are monsters in that magical forest.
The reality is that the spiritual path isn’t as blissful as people make it out to be.
The reality is that there are endless ways you can be taken advantage of by so-called spiritual teachers, guides, gurus, and paths.
The reality is that there are deep rabbit holes that you may struggle to get out of.
Hence the need for spiritual discernment – aka. the Holy Bullshit Detector.
So let’s take off our rose-tinted glasses and get real for a moment.
In a world full of sharks, spiritual discernment is the boat that allows us to safely travel through the waters of existence.
But without it, we are left flailing desperately around in the water while those who feed off ignorance and folly come to feast on us.
The Sacred Path of Brutal Honesty
In order to practice spiritual discernment effectively, you have to be brutally honest with yourself.
What do you really want?
How deep are you willing to go?
What are your true motivations?
There is no use pretending to be one thing and behaving in the opposite way. Eventually, you’ll be called out by yourself, others, or Life itself.
Spiritual discernment only works when you are first crystal clear about your own internal drives and desires.
As psychotherapist and yoga teacher Mariana Caplan explains,
To ask this question ourselves – “Am I committed, or am I just involved?” – and give an honest answers helps us to make intelligence choices about which paths and practices are best suited for the spiritual development we seek. The problem arises when we profess one thing and live out another, because we confuse ourselves and others, and we limit our growth.
If only we could say honestly, and without shame, “I engage spirituality as a hobby,” or “I want a spiritual practice that will give me some inner peace of mind but without any commitment or discipline,” or “I’d like to keep spirituality as my mistress but maintain comfort and security as my spouse,” or “I want to be seen as a spiritual man or woman because that will make me more sexy.” …
Or perhaps we could use more simple, straightforward language, such as “I’m a serious spiritual aspirant,” “I’m a seeker of moderate interest,” or “I’m a part-time, casual spiritual tourist.” It is not wrong to have such an approach to spiritual development. We grow from where we are, and if we pretend to be somewhere we are not and try to move forward, we are likely to travel in a very crooked line and become more confused than necessary.
Figuring out where we stand on the spiritual path is the very beginning of discernment.
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