Discernment is the capacity to identify the difference between what is truth and what is illusion, or a lie, or just the result of chaotic thinking. ~ Caroline Myss
The topic of empathy has been big lately, for me and others. Empaths can be a sponge for the energy of others. Upon the news of Robin Williams’ suicide, a wave of grief and depression flowed across the world, and especially the United States. For some, we felt much more than our own sadness. We felt the enormity of that which belonged to the collective. That’s big. Ever since I began writing this piece a few weeks ago, most of my sessions have involved some discussion of empathy. We are not alone! If you want to know more about empaths and to see if you are one, this article from The Mind Unleased has more information.
As an empath, I have navigated the world in unusual ways. I overwhelm easily in crowded, chaotic places. I taste the energy of foods even more than the flavor. A stranger sitting next to me in a theatre can have a profound impact on my quality of life in that moment. I had ulcerative colitis by about age four, internalizing the stress and emotions of others and my environment.
Being an empath has led me to learn and practice discernment. I like to be where happy people gather, and I choose my friends carefully so that there’s a healthy balance between giving and receiving. I require lots of sleep and solitude to clear my energy field and to discern what energies, thoughts and emotions are mine rather than those I picked up elsewhere. Empathy can drain me. Drama unravels me. This knowing is a gift, in that it’s forced me to become ever more conscious of what I choose to create in my life and where I choose to go. Discernment is great. Judgment is not, for it does not allow me to stay in integrity with who I BE. What’s the difference?
I have pondered the roles of judgment and discernment in my path as empath. Webster defines judgment as an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought. Discernment is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. The distinction is subtle for me. When putting the terms into the context of my life-experience, here is a working definition (always subject to change at any moment): Judgment is when I think I know what’s best for another, while discernment is when I know what’s best for myself and I align my choices accordingly. I find that discernment is essential in my path of keeping my energy field clean and clear, and to allow me to show up authentically. Judgment, in this sense, just muddies everything up and keeps me separate from others in an unhealthy way.
In my coach training, we learned never to assume what’s best for another person. Instead we ask questions to help others to find their truth. This helps me to maintain objectivity and to hold the agenda of others with integrity, without trying to influence them in a way that reflects my ideas and values rather than theirs. At the same time, I am compassionate for the trials and pains of others. In our community, an acquaintance committed a crime. Not long before this occurred, I ran into her at a networking event where she shared many of the trials she recently faced. Even though our conversation was brief, it was very deep and full-of-heart. When she revealed her crime to the police weeks later, many judged her harshly. I could not. In fact, my compassion created an empathic bridge, and perhaps she also reached out to me energetically. It’s quite possible. I kept having flashes of her pain, confusion, regret, and deep, deep sorrow. I could feel the pronounced awareness that her life would never feel normal again. It was as if I shared her consciousness, even though we barely know each other. Part of the hook, for me, is that she liked and trusted me with her story, her pain. My compassion naturally blossoms into empathy. It’s an inevitable route for me, at least so far in my story.
But this connection with her was not healthy for me, and I worked energetically to clear it lovingly. My empathy helps me in my work and life, but I must remember to always maintain healthy boundaries so that I keep my body-mind-spirit in full vibrancy.
Boundaries help me to maintain objectivity and detachment, to experience my groundedness and centeredness in a way that keeps me fully-functioning and vibrant in this life. I still experience harsh reminders at times, but I am learning and expanding with each year of my life in this earthsuit.
Even further, boundaries contribute to my integrity. On August 4, Caroline Myss shared this on discernment on her facebook page in a way that takes the discussion further and links to integrity.
A discerning vantage point is one in which you make a conscious effort – and it is an effort – to stay as detached from emotional reasoning as you can in order to view the order of life with compassion. This is a Buddhist approach and it makes sense to me. This is how I would like to be approached by others; that is, no one from the outside world knows my inner life or knows me or understands why I think as I do. No one was with me through my childhood or knows how deeply I still mourn the passing of my brother. We do not and never will know each other that much – ever. How can we ever hope to understand how world events happen? It takes the grace of discernment to realize you cannot and never will be able to comprehend the full measure of emotion and history and pain and all the other ingredients that make up even one “energy day” of life – especially in an area of high chaos and war. Again and again, it is up to each of us to decide whether to respond with the highest forces within ourselves or with emotions. I remember having so much anger at two people one time, I ended up ill. It’s a long story and quite honestly, a damn good one because I ended up saying the prayer I am going to share with you now. I had become discerning enough to realize that my way of viewing everything about these two relationships was absolutely meaningless. Still, that did not release my anger, so I said this prayer, “Until I am able to heal myself of my anger, please do not let it harm those people or do harm to anyone. I do not want my harmful emotions to harm one more human being.” I promise you, the instant I said that prayer, my heart was healed. I had no idea that would happen – no idea whatsoever. I have never again felt anger like that. I can’t imagine it and I don’t want to. I had managed to heal all of us because I could not bear to hurt them any longer even if I could not forgive them. And instantly, it was over. The grace of discernment allows you to see when enough is enough and you need to get on with the business of being loving without exceptions.
Myss’s powerful prayer echoes for me profoundly, “Until I am able to heal myself of my anger, please do not let it harm those people or do harm to anyone. I do not want my harmful emotions to harm one more human being.” As one who channels healing energy and as an empath, causing harm to another person feels unbearable. Yet, I have said and done cruel things from an unhealed place within myself at times.
What’s true for me now… I am willing to heal, at the deepest levels, in service to myself and my authentic spiritual journey. As an empath, I carry the pain of others from time to time. I promise to honor and do my utmost to cleanse and purify myself of toxic emotions, to show up as channel for healing to the best of my ability, now and always. I also promise to honor myself by not holding myself to notions of perfection that defy the human condition.
How do you discern your own thoughts and feelings from those of others?
How do you cleanse and purify your energy field as needed?
How can you be more gentle with yourself, just as you are?