“Every time you decide, there is loss, no matter how you decide. It’s always a question of what you cannot afford to lose. I’m not the one playing the piano here. You’re the one that needs to decide what the next note will be.”
“But how do I know the next note is the right one?”
“The right note sounds right and the wrong note sounds wrong.” – Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Nearly 20 years ago, in the middle of a conversation about meat, I realized that the idea of eating meat made me uncomfortable. The truth of this flashed so strongly inside of me that I couldn’t ignore it. So I stopped eating meat. And for these last 20 years, when people have asked for (or sometimes demanded) reasons why I’m vegetarian, I have told them the simplest, truest thing: I don’t want to eat meat.
Once, someone heard that response and sputtered, “Well that’s not good enough for me!” as if I owed her an explanation. A lot of people resist such simple explanations as “I knew it was the right choice for me”, or “I just had the sense it was the right thing to do”, so I have a list of reasons which are not untrue, but which carried less weight in my decision making than listening to my gut did.
My decision making process was similar when deciding to keep my birth name when I got married. Keeping it felt right, my husband had no qualms about it, so I stayed a Felice. Simple as that.
These decisions call to mind the Ignatian concept of discernment, or how we use feelings of consolation and desolation to determine what course we should take in life. Discernment is about recognizing feelings such as courage and joy, or despair and anxiety and informing our decisions with them.
Discernment is often associated with lengthy processes rather than the spontaneous spark of conviction that I described above, so here is another example: when my now-husband and I started dating, all signs pointed toward things not working out. The most glaring sign was that we lived 3 hours apart. We were both hesitant to get involved and I was uncertain and frustrated. But every time I prayed about it I was convinced that this was part of God teaching me how to love, and I would decide again not to bail on the whole messy enterprise. Thank goodness I stuck it out.
We don’t make big decisions every day, but we make plenty of small ones, and we make choices that help form consciences that can be trusted. By listening to others, critiquing my reactions to experiences, consuming positive words and images, and praying regularly I do my best to stave off self-deception and the evil spirit.
Developing a gut that can be trusted is the work of a lifetime. Sometimes reading the spirits of consolation and desolation must be supplemented with lists of pros and cons, or extensive consultation and consideration of a decision’s effect on others. For most of my life listening for that right note, the one that sounds right, has led me to a joyful life, with few regrets.
How do you practice discernment?
This post is inspired by Loyola Press’s 31 Days with Ignatius, which focuses on Ignatian themes throughout the month of July leading up to the Feast of St Ignatius Loyola on July 31. I failed to give Ignatius his due for most of the month, but hope this post makes up for it. Have a blessed Feast!