Skill of Discernment. . .
Discernment is one of the most difficult skills to master especially when it comes to dealing with our ability to embrace the world around us.
We often have an overinflated sense of our own power to enact change. On some subconscious level, we truly believe that we can make other people see our point of view if we just have one more conversation with them, explain our position one more time or, sometimes, yell loudly enough. This, of course, is ridiculous. People do not change their minds when others shout at them or call them names. Even those who try to change events or others’ opinions with civil, respectful behavior often find themselves frustrated as things refuse to change.
This is because the things they want to influence are not within their ability to alter. Discerning what we can change and what we simply wish we could change is not easy. True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best.
Discernment functions as a key to mental freedom. Growth through discernment sets us free from mental and spiritual trappings, enabling us to distinguish practices that may be helpful in some circumstances from those that are mandated in all circumstances. But in another way, true discernment enables the free mind to recognize that the exercise of freedom is not essential to the enjoyment of it.
The Buddha taught that discernment begins by seeking out knowledgeable contemplatives—people who have trained their minds to gain personal experience of the highest happiness—and asking them, “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?” To do this demonstrates discernment in four important ways:
• It shows that you know enough to ask the advice of people more experienced than you.
• You realize that happiness comes from your own actions.
• You realize that long-term is better than short-term.
• Above all, you realize that the search for long-term happiness is the most worthy use of your discernment—the search for true happiness is a noble pursuit—and that you need discernment to do it right.
Peace and Love, Jim
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