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Make up your Mind

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 108 - February 2005

How do you choose what to do, what to buy, which therapist to see, which supplement to take? This magazine shows many advertisements, and the articles describe many different therapies. You cannot try them all!

Recently I have been watching my own choosing mechanism in action, and also how other people make decisions.

I had picked up a leaflet for a workshop entitled Discernment and put it on one side. A week before it was due to happen, I suddenly realized it would stimulate me to think, to learn and to understand something about the process of choosing. I hurriedly applied for a place. Thirty of us spent a day and a half looking at what makes us do what we do, and the reasons behind our choices. It became clear that there is a process that we go through, which is more than logic or intuition, but combines both.

Process of Right Decision Making

So what is this process? You are offered a new job. It sounds fantastic, but there are drawbacks too. It is very demanding, and you have to be committed for at least a year. You are not sure if you can make such a commitment, because it will stop you from being as free as you have been. But it offers you regular money and a chance to get experience and responsibility. Your friends and family say it is worth taking. But it means considerable pressure, meeting regular deadlines and working alone at home, with no support. You have two days to make up your mind. After all the advice, you decide against taking this work, and immediately feel a sense of relief.

Getting clarity and becoming sure is part of the process of choosing. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends, getting their views and considering them. But the ultimate decision is of course not theirs. So how can you make up your mind? There is more than one point of view, but only one choice, which you make.


At this point, Discernment can enter the scene. Discernment is not a word that is in everyday use in most people's vocabulary. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as: good judgement or insight.

The word Discernment seems now to have been hijacked by religions, as being the only way to decide whether something is right or wrong, spiritual or not. You look at your decision-making in the light of your belief system, Islamic, Christian, Sufi, Jewish, Buddhist, or whatever.

Prayer or meditation is also involved. My research into the subject showed me that I was treading in holy water, and that each church claims to have the only way to spiritual discernment. You are instructed to read their scriptures and pray to their particular God to find out your truth.

But you do not need to adhere to any particular organized religious faith to apply this method. Anyone can check out whether a course of action fits in with their own ideas of true spirituality and the ethics that go with it. Anyone who has a personal belief in a Divine consciousness, or Spirit or Creator can use the same method as the churches.

Testing Out Our Personal Discernments

Well, we may not use the same words as the various churches; however, we can all put our decisions to the same test – does it fit with our innermost truth?

Many of us make decisions based on what other people advice; we may accept the direction that our parents point out and keep on this path until we realize it feels wrong for us.

I have known Harry a few years, and persuaded him to tell me about his life-changing choice, when he ended a successful career as an accountant. After gaining a Masters in social work, he decided to live on his savings while investigating various forms of voluntary work. "For two years I tried out other things; my spirit didn't suffer at all; I had to hide what I was doing, though… It's hard to be different, when you make decisions that others don't approve of. I had time but no money …but then people started to say I looked much happier, and I certainly felt a load off my shoulders. I have now done things I had never done before… conservation, green groups, youth work, among others."

Thirty years later he says he has no regrets. His life contrasts sharply with those determined to amass material goods; he seems to enjoy what to others might seem a frugal lifestyle, but he radiates a cheery contentment when talking about his voluntary work supporting people in need. Unexpected legacies from relatives helped him to stay on this path, which he feels is definitely right for him.

How can you be sure that a decision is right just because you feel it is? It needs to be checked against the effects on other people – if it is harmful to others, then it is not a true spiritual discernment.

Heart-Centred Yogic View of Discernment

I like this Kundalini Yogic view of discernment:

The essence of discernment is really listening to your body, and especially to your heart. Most people who do not get to hear the heart voice, at least get a sense of warmth that is a non-verbal affirmation. The body has a built in-lie detector, and the signals of it can be unique. The most common signals:

• A sense of opening, expansion, warmth and/or joy in the heart chakra communicates a 'yes';

• A sinking feeling in the stomach is a negative answer;

• Goosebumps and shivers is a positive answer.

Individual Choices

Finding your true direction is not easy. Some Christians claim that psychological methods used today to help with this are not acceptable to them while others happily make use of them. For example, the Enneagram offers potential for discernment of one's spiritual path in life. It involves doing tests to discover the personality type you are, which will enable you to understand yourself better which leads to making right choices. The Enneagram has foundations in all three of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Sufi Islam.

While I am drawn towards knowing more about it at some stage, as it might be useful in my work or for me, I discern that now is not the right moment to do this, as I have other priorities. I get a sinking feeling at the idea of following it up at this moment.

What is important is to listen to yourself and be sure that you make the decision with a respect for all aspects of your feelings, physical, mental and spiritual, and check out how it will affect others in your life.


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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail:


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