Cultivating the Use of Discernment: 9 Powerful Questions to Ask Yourself to Learn Through Insight Rather than Pain and Suffering and Where to Start with Children

One of the main themes woven throughout the skills in Instructional Guide 1 is the intention of practicing non-judgment of oneself and others. When I first began my spiritual journey and attended the University of Santa Monica (where I obtained my Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology), I took this idea to an unhealthy extreme. USM teaches that you are never upset for the reason you think. Without going into too much detail, the primary teaching is that if a situation or a person triggers me, the person or situation is acting as a mirror. As a mirror, people and circumstances reflect something that needs to be worked on: a wound, something active in my vibrational frequency, something that needs healing within me. Although I believe the concept of projection to be accurate and true, there is more than one way to grow and expand.

Throughout the two years I studied at USM, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. Every time I got triggered, I pointed the finger back at myself. I asked the question, “What is it in me that needs to be healed?” Indeed, there were things within me needing love and forgiveness, irrational beliefs to be examined and released, and growth taking place. However, I had not yet learned to use the skill of discerning.

Yes, it is noble to be accepting of all life and refrain from judging people and situations as good or bad, right or wrong. Living from a place of acceptance and love does not mean it is wise to abandon our power of choice, however, and stay in unhealthy situations. Discernment is not judgment. It does not render some things better or worse than others. It is the power of selection based on intention and desire.

What does this mean exactly? If we intend to grow through insight rather than pain, then we can use discernment to make choices that feel expansive and joyful rather than constricting and draining, all while remaining in a place of non-judgment. The ability to use my discernment and make choices that have allowed me to learn through insight rather than pain, and remain in a place of non-judgment, has taken me years to embody and is still a work in progress.

In my example of the unhealthy relationship I was participating in, I could clearly see, both then and now, how it was serving my growth and expansion. And I do not subscribe to the victim mentality on any level. However, one does not need to stay in an unhealthy situation to learn the lessons and benefit from the insights it provides. It is possible to do the work either way. Meaning, if I were to have left the relationship without doing the inner work required to grow and expand, I most likely would have attracted a similar situation. As Abraham Hicks says, “same person, different face.” Essentially, we attract what’s in our vibrational frequency whether we intend to or not. If the inner work to shift one’s vibrational frequency is not done, the universe will gladly provide multiple opportunities in the form of “same person, different face” for us to learn and grow. Have you ever had this happen to you? Maybe you go from job to job, and there’s always that one person who rubs you the wrong way; same person, different face. The inner work is required. The choice comes in whether or not to do the work while remaining in the situation or to remove oneself from the situation and still do the work. Hence, Discernment.

At the time, I stayed in the relationship and did the work to the best of my ability. I didn’t understand that I had the option to leave the relationship and do the inner work regardless. Many years later, I am older and wiser and choose the option to leave when appropriate. If I find myself attracting an unhealthy person or situation, I often remove myself from the relationship and still do the work. It depends on the specific circumstances. Whether I chose to stay or go, I always use my discernment. If the relationship or situation feels toxic, I get out while not forgetting to do the reflection necessary to gain insight, grow, and expand into an even better version of myself. I can always tell if I’ve shifted when the “same person, different face” no longer shows up in my life.

One of the things that using discernment early on has helped me with is moving into a deeper place of love and acceptance for myself and others. When I remove myself from situations and relationships that don’t feel good early on, it prevents me from getting in too deep. In the past, once invested in a toxic relationship, whether it be a friendship, romantic relationship, or business partnership, it became harder over time to create distance between myself and the other person. I was emotionally invested and often financially connected as well, with many strings attached. The split was more difficult, time-consuming, and painful. I could not remove myself from the situation without judging the other person as hurting me in some way. I would judge myself for allowing myself to stay in a relationship that was not uplifting and positive. Now, when red flags pop up in a relationship or circumstance, I start asking myself questions that help me use my discernment immediately. I take responsibility for my part and start looking for the learning opportunities. I don’t, however, spend years of my time and energy investing in something that feels bad. I remember that I have the power to select what I prefer, based on intention and desire, in a non-judgmental, self-affirming way.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating for anyone to stay or go in any given situation—quite the opposite. I am advocating for each and every person to use discernment and do what’s best for them. There is no right or wrong answer. There have been many times when I asked myself the questions suggested in this article that I was guided to stay, to say yes, and continue to learn and grow within the given situation or relationship. Ultimately, however, I prefer to grow through insight rather than pain and suffering.

Here are 9 of the questions I ask myself to use discernment and decide what is best for me:

  1. Do I need to say in the current situation/relationship to gain the insights I need for my growth and expansion? Or, can I remove myself and still mine the gifts the situation/relationship has provided?
  2. Would I rather grow through insight or pain and suffering? Or, will staying help me grow through insight, or will too much pain and suffering occur?
  3. When deciding whether or not to take action, I ask, am I joyfully empowered to do this?
  4. When faced with a decision, I ask, what are the consequences of staying in the current situation/relationship (or saying yes to something)? What would the consequences be if I removed myself from the situation/relationship (or saying no to something)?
  5. I tune into myself and ask, at this time, should I stay or should I go? Along with this, what is the most self-honoring choice I can make? Then I act accordingly.

How-to Help Children use discernment

When teaching this skill to children, I recommend starting with the small things. The question, “Am I joyfully empowered to do this?” Or, “How will I feel if I (take a particular action or make a certain choice)?” are good ones to start with. Start asking yourself these questions throughout your day. Notice how many things you do that you don’t feel joyfully empowered to do or how many actions you take/choices you make that don’t feel good. If things feel bad, or you find yourself doing things that don’t bring you joy, consider if this is what you want for your child to experience as an adult; a life that feels hard, and then you die? Of course not. Obviously, many things that adults and children alike need to do throughout the day may not feel exceptionally exciting, such as washing dishes or making beds. But wouldn’t it be nice if those things were the exception rather than the rule? If we teach children to start asking questions and using discernment early in life, they will start to understand what brings them joy and makes their heart sing. Knowing what makes their heart sing and moving in the direction of that can have lifelong positive consequences such as feeling good all day every day and choosing a career that feels like play rather than work. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Starting with the Small Things

Here are some situations you can teach your child to ask questions about that will help them tune into themselves and begin to cultivate the skill of discerning.

When choosing…

  • a toy to play with, they can ask, “Which toy feels like the most fun to play with right now?”
  • a food to eat for lunch, they can ask, “Which food do I want to eat right now?”
  • an activity they can ask, “Do I feel like doing something active or something relaxing right now?”
  • to do something or not, they can ask, “What will happen if I choose (insert option a)? What will happen if I choose (insert option b)? “Which option is better for me?” “Why?”

Allow your child to choose using discernment, but talk about the consequences of their choices, too. Help them learn that choices have consequences. If they experience consequences that they do not like on a regular basis, discuss the circumstances and help them refine their use of discernment. Teach them how to grow through insight rather than pain and suffering.