“Discernment of spirits” – The Inner Experience

Discernment is a process of paying attention to what takes place within us, in order to let the Divine transform us. One can distinguish four “moments” in any inner experience:

  • First moment: The general direction of my life: If I am truly interested in engaging in a journey beyond myself towards God, (or, which points us in the same direction, deeper within myself towards my sacred Self), then my first task is to notice in which way my life is currently headed: am I, by and large, expending my time and energy looking after my needs, my ambitions, protecting myself, positioning myself for advantage and success? Or rather, am I trying to move beyond myself to others, am I aware of the dangers of my Ego and wary of where it leads me? Am I seeking guidance from a Higher Power? Do I find myself straining to overcome my self-centredness? In which direction am I generally pointed: towards my Ego or towards God? This first task of discernment is critical because it determines for us whether we are oriented towards God or towards ourselves. As in any physical journey, it is of utmost importance to determine in which direction we are travelling before anything else. And so this first exercise is simply designed to answer the question: are we going in the right direction? Have we aligned our energies with the Spirit-energy in the world, or are we wrapped up in ourselves and our needs and our safety?

  • Second Moment: The Affective Experience Itself: The affective experience takes place in the environment of ordinary human experience, such as reading or remembering. We have feelings all the time, as a result of all our experiences. Our first task is to be aware of them, to know that we have them, and to recognize that God draws us to spiritual realities through our feelings. What am I feeling? Are these feelings positive or negative, pulling me down, lifting me up? Can I name them? Can I hold the feeling experience in front of me, as it were, and truly let it speak to me.

  • Third Moment: Noticing, Savouring, and Understanding the Affective Experience: Much of our work is to pay attention to our affective states. This is our third task: to notice our feelings, to savour them, to name them, to let them go, and, in the process, to develop some understanding of them, especially as to what they might signify in our journey towards our Divine Centre, our Self. In this moment, as we seek to name our feelings, we also seek to determine their “vector,” that is, the direction they point us in. Typically, this process requires that we recall the general direction of our life. Do these feelings reinforce the power of our Ego? In particular, are they feelings of anger, judgment, or fear? These are particularly indicative of a movement towards the Ego. These feelings describe the domain of Ego, since they are all about protecting ourselves, aggrandizing ourselves, diminishing others, finding competitive advantage, etc. Such feelings, when we have them, are a pretty good indication that we are being drawn deeper in to the domain of our Ego, and away from God, away from our Divine Centre, our Self. The simple analysis is this: if I am oriented towards God and I feel positive feelings, I am probably in Consolation. If I feel negative feelings, I am in Desolation, and this is a warning that I am in danger of turning towards my Ego. If, on the other hand, I am generally oriented towards my Ego and its needs, and I am experiencing negative feelings, this may be Consolation, and is often an initial call towards God; if, on the other hand, I am feeling good, this is normally Desolation, and a sign that I am reinforced in my commitment to my self-centred life.

  • Fourth Moment: The Results of the Experience: Interestingly, we are not asked to actually “do” much with these feelings at this time. Our task is to observe faithfully and compassionately. Our main task at this point is to note the direction these feelings lead us into, and to note the process by which we are paying attention to them. We are asked to pay attention to the fruit of this process of attending to our feelings. Most often, this leads to more subtle awareness, more sensitivity, deeper feelings, more ability to name, less sense of being “victims” of our feeling states, and more ability to use our experience and awareness of it in order to be more available to the Divine action within us. (Continue) (Return to Suggested Practices)