How and where we focus our attention can actually promote growth in core areas of the brain connected to well-being.
This is why learning the art and skill of discernment is so important. What is discernment? The dictionary definition is the ability to judge well. Another definition is the ability to know ourselves well enough to decide what we really need; and to distinguish what and how to engage with that which does.
Each day we are faced with dozens of choices. It is easy to get distracted and to feel overwhelmed. Research has shown the more decisions we have in a to make in a day, or under pressure, the less likely they are to be beneficial.
President Obama knows this, and according to journalist Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, has decided to to delegate all non-essential decisions. This allows him to focus his attention on what is most important and pressing, thereby saving his best for his country and his family.
While the decisions most of us have to make on a daily basis are unlikely to have direct consequences on the state of the nation. They do intimately affect us and our families, and by extension the world we live in.
For example, this morning I planned to answer my email, and pay the bills online, but clicked on an ad and ended up browsing at dresses. As a result, I didn’t have time to work on my latest poem, and that left me with a kind of emptiness. That emptiness turned into being short-tempered with my daughter when I had to drive her to dance class and morphed into a feeling of resentment that said that the responsibilities of sole parenting were keeping me from doing what was really fulfilling. This resentful mood turned into being a less generous driver….. I think you see what I’m driving at pun intended.
All of this can be traced back to not using discernment. To not directing my senses to the things that I truly nourish instead of what “I” think I want. I have enough dresses for the moment, and even if I didn’t, shopping for them when what I really needed to do was clear away tasks so that I could work on what is most important to me artistically, was what created that feeling and those behaviors.
Example # 2. I was going to sit down and savor a healthy lunch at 12 o’clock, but since I didn’t answer the emails I ate standing up,scarfing it down up and got stomach cramps afterward. Example # 3. I’d wanted to walk out to see the sunset, but decided my leg was too sore. Yet instead of lying down and resting or just sitting on the patio and listening to the birds, I ended up doing busy work and drinking a glass of wine . Which while tasting nice and giving me a temporary lift, didn’t really take the place of the missed sunset and later I felt sad.
Example # 3. I wanted to watch something funny and intelligent to lift my spirits (I love the Colbert Report), but ended up getting sucked into the unreal drama of a reality show instead. At the time it seemed compelling, but afterwards I definitely wasn’t uplifted.
We all do it. Which is why discernment is a key ingredient, for a happier, healthier, life. And why the ability to judge well what truly nourishes your senses and therefore your soul determines the quality of your life. So how do we begin to distinguish between the things that really feed us, and the things that just fill us up. It’s really pretty simple. Just pay attention to the way you feel after you touch, taste, see, smell or hear or do something. Not just whether it was pleasurable on a superficial level, or temporary basis, but how did it make you feel deep down, during and after.
This applies to things that are difficult too. This kind of self inquiry leads to the kind of awareness that hones your ability to discern which of the myriad options that our 24/7, high-speed, super sized, twitterized, culture offers really supply the sensory nutrients you need, in what amounts. I believe there truly is a time and place for everything. Even the occasional reality show. I also believe It’s all about discernment….. And moderation. Yes, we are all busy and there are always things that can be done. But discovering which ones to do and when is what discernment is all about.
In this sense discernment is also a kind of refined discipline. Discernment is also about timing. Telling ourselves we don’t have time for what really engages our senses and feeds the deeper aspects of our humanity means we aren’t hearing what our hearts and souls are saying. It also means we are missing out on the little moments of beauty that life offers even on the busiest of days.
I’d love to hear your stories of discernment, and how it does and doesn’t impact on your life.