To discern: to perceive (something obscure or concealed). The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.

The word "discernment" showed up in my thoughts and conversation several years ago, connoting a way of perceiving the right course of action when right choices are not obvious. For me, discernment is a way of listening to my heart and taking care to hear the truth about what moves me forward or holds me back, and of getting past the distractions of fear and attachment.
As a coach I support my clients in the process of discerning what choices or commitments they are called to make. It is a creative process insofar as it taps into intuition and inspiration. It is a spiritual process insofar as it taps into trust and surrender. Discernment is a discipline insofar as it requires the patience, rigorous honesty, and thoroughness, While the context and outcome from each discernment process varies, what remains constant is the remarkable focus, peace and stamina that clients who practice discernment bring to their choices. They create for themselves a clarity that empowers them to move forward with both certainty and humility.

There are many ways to practice discernment. One of my favorite tools was developed by Scot MacLise and is reprinted here by permission.

Is this an appropriate place to show up?
o Do I feel fear? Can I identify the fear?
o How can I support walking through the fear?
Is this an appropriate way to show up?
o Am I showing up as my higher/better self?
o What are the key points to make?
o Is this who I intend to be?
o Am I meeting people where they are, not where I expect them to be?
o Does this accurately reflect my current bigger game?

Recently, I've learned that the word "discernment" has a particular meaning in the context of spiritual direction, where it refers to a process called the examen (exAYmen), developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. In brief, the examen is a daily practice of asking two questions, each of which may be phrased in a variety of ways to support your personal discernment process.

o When today did I feel the most gratitude/joy/energy? When was I most able to give and receive love? When did I feel closest to God?
o When today did I feel the most ungrateful/unhappy/depleted? When was I least able to give and receive love? When did I feel furthest from God?
If the word "God" gets in your way, don't use it. The whole point of discernment is to support the love, energy and joy in your life, not to erect roadblocks.

I have only scratched the surface of discernment. I could write a book about the processes I have co-created with clients (now there's an idea!). There is a book about the examen, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila Fabricant and Matthew, published by Paulist Press. It is available through The Bookstore at

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