Duality and The Art of Discernment

By Beth O'Hara, May 2013

“The first rule in life is to put up with things. The second rule is to not put up with things. The third is to learn to discern the difference.” –Author Unkown

Similar to the serenity prayer, this quote asks us to look deeply into ourselves. The word discernment is derived from the Latin word for sifting. Discernment is a practice of sifting through all the factors in a situation to arrive at what essence is calling for in each situation.

We all grapple with questions that require discernment. Here are a few of the questions I hear in regards to Enneagram Type:

1-     When do I improve myself and when do I relax?

2-     When do I ask others to meet my needs and when do I meet them myself?

3-     When do I put myself forward and when do I recede?

4-     When do I appreciate what I have and when is it time to seek something else?

5-     When do I engage in the world and when do I genuinely need to retreat?

6-     When do I prepare and when do I trust that I am always ready for what comes?

7-     When do I seek pleasure and adventure and when do I sit with discomfort?

8-     When do I take a stand and when do I relax into knowing there is nothing to protect?

9-     When do I assert myself and when do I let go of the little stuff?

Quakers have a central practice of discernment based on active inquiry paired with deep listening. I was blessed several years ago be able to meet with Quakers as a part of a Clearness Committee to help me discern whether to move to Cincinnati. The process involved a series of questions about motivation, awareness of the thoughts, feelings and sensations I had about the decision and deep listening to Essence. None of us knew what the outcome would be. We came together in the spirit of discovery. In any situation calling for discernment, many of the same inquiry questions are useful:

What are my motivations in this situation?

What are my thoughts, feelings and sensations?

What are my preferences, needs, wants, desires?

What does my ego want?

What serves my Essence?

The Law of Three of the Enneagram is another useful tool for discernment. There are three forces that play out in any situation: the active/masculine/affirming/creative force, the receptive/feminine/denying/destructive force, and the reconciling force that brings the two dualities together.  In the symbol of the yin yang, both the dark and light are necessary to form the whole.  They are reconciled in seeing that both are necessary and both are part of the other – there really is no separation between the two. Either/or thinking keeps us stuck in dualities. By dropping into Presence, we may find that both realities co-exist.

Just like any practice, discerning is a learning process. Since it is a learning process, this means we can let go of getting it “right” (another duality) and accept that we will make mistakes along the way. According to Daniel Goleman in his book Social Intelligence, we learn best when we allow ourselves to make mistakes. What freedom in knowing that it is not only useful to make mistakes, but essential to grow!

What are the dualities occurring in your life and how can you use discernment to reconcile them?


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