I think it’s time more of us chose to grow up.
As a culture, we are inundated with information. News media keeps us up to date on all the drama of our times. Our social media news feeds educate us on things we never knew we needed to learn. Podcasts offer a plethora of fantastic and less-than-fantastic conversations. Advertisements bombard us from billboards, magazines, radio, television. On the rare occasion when we’re not being plied with data from external sources, we can find almost anything we want to know with an internet connection and a decent command of Google.
What we seem to lack, however, is mature discernment.
Just because we find it on the internet, an ancient text said something, a “Gold Standard” scientific study proves it or a teacher offers it to us, does not necessarily make the information pertinent to us as individuals. So why do we allow ourselves to be baffled by conflicting stories and studies? Or worse, swallow these things, hook, line and sinker?
The conspiracy theorist in me reckons we have been conditioned out of the ability to think for ourselves to a very large degree. Well-meaning social support services offer us advice on how to raise our children and stay healthy (sometimes based on outdated studies of suspect methods, sponsorship and conclusions). Schools teach children to sit still to learn even though anyone who’s ever watched a child truly engaged with the process of learning, knows they need kinetic energy to support them. Homework conditions them to take work home so they’ll eventually be good employees and creating greater possibility of disrespecting their own boundaries to serve someone else’s agenda. Science is sometimes for sale and subject to manipulation of data. Popular media is controlled by interest groups. And don’t get me started on religion…
For centuries, practices that encouraged our own thinking were deemed dangerous by the powers that be. They were demonised to the extent that “good people” would eschew them in favour of widely approved practices and morality.
My own journey into better discernment has been a lifelong remembering process that has required me to turn inward time and again. It’s been, and continues to be, an ongoing process to learn to trust my own voice, my own bone-deep knowing and at times, to go against the world around me to honour it.
As a child, I was hauled to church, encouraged to accept Jesus as my saviour and taught to worship at the altar of God’s love.
Many things didn’t make sense to my young mind – why did we have to fund raise to send missionaries to “save” people in remote villages across the world? If someone had never heard of Jesus and died, I couldn’t fathom why a “loving God” would condemn them to Hell forever. Why did we have to give a tenth of our income to be part of a community of “unconditional” love and support? What about the poor people with no income? What was the point of arcane rituals that came with no explanation, no internal connection? Why so many rules from the outside?
While I never felt fully at home at the church, I persisted with church attendance and Sunday School teaching (!) until well after my wedding and into my 20’s. Leaving the church was not easy and my father was not happy with me but there came a point where I could do no other.
As a young, impressionable undergraduate, I was indoctrinated into the scientific lineage and taught to worship at the altar of randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled studies.
Again, many things didn’t make sense to me. So many of the studies that met the “Gold Standard” had logic gaps you could drive a truck through. How was a study of 150 undergraduates who were given credit for participating reflective of a whole population, as was often inferred? I was taught to make broad generalisations and to sweep outliers under the proverbial carpet. I became adept at using mathematical models to manipulate the findings of existing studies so that the exact same numbers could be made to show a totally different conclusion. I watched the media further manipulate the results of studies with suspect methodologies to create eye-catching headlines.
While I couldn’t bring myself to delve deeper into this dissonant world of academia by pursuing further study, there was nearly a decade where a huge proportion of my conversations began with the phrase “Studies have shown….”, as a means of establishing the veracity of my point of view.
Finally, as a disillusioned woman on the precipice of my Saturn return, I began investigating Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yoga, Meditation and Poetry – some of the very things deemed “dangerous” by the church elders of my youth and poo-pooed by my colleagues in the science lab.
Suddenly, I felt at home. No one was asking me to go against my internal voice, rather I was being handed tools for remembering the source of my innate wisdom. There was so much that made sense, so many ideas from disparate lineages that converged and ultimately, the encouragement to listen inwardly to test the veracity of what I was being told.
In her poem “Wild Geese”, Mary Oliver eloquently summed up the relief I felt at this homecoming into awareness:
Ultimately we are unique creatures with so many factors at play that no one outside of us can possibly track them all to determine what’s best for us in any context. We abdicate authority in our own lives when we hand over discernment to others. At best, other people, including well-studied experts can only be our guides, offering suggestions for experimentation. We must take responsibility for observing the results of those experiments and making skillful decisions about how we proceed in the current season of our lives.
It’s an ongoing commitment. For example, what you learn about how to manage yourself in the winter in your 30’s might might bear no resemblance to what you need in the summer of your 50’s or the autumn of your 70’s. To truly own our capacity to thrive, we must take nothing for granted and stay wide awake to our lived reality as it evolves.
These days, it’s my mission to help people conduct n=1 studies to learn how they think, feel and respond to something. Everything else is actually irrelevant. Even the frameworks of yoga, meditation and lifestyle techniques that I use are just that – frameworks. They give us a jumping off point for the investigation and ensuing conversation.
Taking ownership of the investigation of ourselves, what the yogis called svadhyaya, and the decision making at the very deepest level of our lives is not for the faint of heart. Make no mistake, the challenge can be immense and it is tempting to hand back authority when the going gets rough. But the potential payoff is incredible – developing the skill of discernment opens up vistas of possibility in every sphere of our lives, including how we can serve the people around us and our planet.
Now that’s what I call being a grown up.
If you’d like to join me for a journey into remembering how to discern subtleties for yourself, let’s have a conversation about how we could do that and what tools we could use. There are options – from in-person private sessions, to group processes, to distance learning and incorporating techniques that range from yoga to meditation to lifestyle habits to deciphering scientific findings as well as many other things.