Discernment is the ability to perceive from diverse perspectives, explore subtleties and nuance, and seek clarity and guidance from a place of broad awareness and inclusion.

  • Practicing discernment counteracts a primal tendency to be narrow and closed.
  • Choices made after a period of discernment feel more congruent in body and mind.
  • To discern includes pausing and tuning into our perceptive centers in the head, heart, gut, and core… which avoids head-only decisions that do not take into account what matters to us.
  • Discernment is a core aspect of intuitive guidance.

What Am I Noticing?

Our body-mind is designed to filter out sensations and pass through the ones it has “decided” are the most important. Alas, most of the louder sensations are about survival and can evoke fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

When we we take a powerful pause and ask, “What am I noticing?” …we’re inviting a broader not-just-survival perspective.

What am I noticing in my body? My limbs? My lower body? My gut? My heart? And yes, my head, too?

What emotions am I feeling in the parts of my body that I’m noticing?

Am I noticing conflict… congruence… heaviness… or lightness? How is my inner world interacting with what is outside of me in the environment?

What’s my current state of being? Do I need to shift before I am able to discern this from other perspectives?

Noticing with the intention to enhance our discernment helps us to travel within our body’s guidance system. We get to feel and interpret intuitive impulses that are much quieter and more subtle than noisy fears and doubts. A useful portal into this exploration can simply be to say to yourself… Hmmmm… what am I noticing here? And what else?

Is the Primitive Brain Running Things Right Now?

Our primitive brain cares about survival, not thriving. Discerning when the primitive brain is activated and driving our behavior (and the behavior of others) is a core skill.

But how do we know?

Well, do we want to run and hide? That’s the flight part of the primitive brain.

Are we feeling defensive? Arguing? Attacking? Aggressive and righteous? Well, that’s the fight reflex.
Are we checking out, going numb, turning on the TV or zoning out with social media? Is there a helpless feeling or even an inability to act or move? That’s the freeze response.

Are we striving to please someone at all costs (even the cost of our self-worth)? Are we making the other person right and powerful and been meek and ashamed (even if we’re not sure why we feel so submissive)? That’s fawn – one of the lesser understood aspects of our survival circuitry.

Discernment practice helps us notice in retrospect: “Oh! I was triggered. My primitive brain took over and I just needed to…” With that discernment, we can use EFT Tapping and other ways to release and adapt to open up fresh options when such situations arise in the future (and they probably will…).

Noticing these triggered behaviors in others helps us not get pulled into the primal drama, too. “Oh, feels like their primitive brain feels threatened. Maybe we need to take a pause here and see if we can co-regulate or at least not end up running or fighting or traumatizing each other!”

Useful Questions

  • What am I noticing?
  • How might I see this differently?
  • Are there any parts of me that perceive this from a different vantage point?
  • Does it feel the same in my head as it does in my heart and gut?
  • If I imagine someone else who cares about this, too, how might they view what’s happening and what’s important here?
  • Am I or any of the other people locked into primitive brain reactions right now?


Related Concepts

Body Guidance, Clarity, Awareness, Powerful Pause, Primitive Brain, Diversity, Wisdom

Contributors: @Rick

We invite you to share your experiences and wisdom:

  • Life examples where this concept has played a role
  • Other useful questions
  • Links to audios, videos, books, and courses that add to our shared understanding of this concept
  • Memes, quotes, and inspiring images

Fantastic Rick!! Just reading it has invited me to pause and calm a bit…thanks.


My theme for the year is to be discerning. This will help me to be clear and focused, including saying no to what no longer serves me. In this way, I can live more on purpose and in alignment - and therefore direct my energy in the right direction; as well as helping others from a better ‘place’. Thank you for the reminder, Rick.


I’ve just read ‘Discernment’ again after a bit of an emotional interaction on FB…(imagine that!! What are the odds??)…and once again I’m feeling more ‘settled’. And I want to be clear that I’m not feeling settled simply because I chose to make Rick’s words make me ‘right’ in the situation on FB…it’s bigger and far more important than that…I see in myself a clear tendency to not be fully discerning in the way Rick describes and to enter into emotional conversation in that undiscerning state. I aim to do better.


Added: Is the Primitive Brain Running Things Right Now?


Discernment is so important!

In Daoist medicine, there are various aspects of discernment that relate to each element, and to several different organs, which sometimes my clients find helpful to tune into, especially if they’ve hitherto mostly been “head-centered” in their discernment…

For instance, the Small Intestine (capitalized because I’m referring to the Chinese medical version, that includes all the energetic aspects, not just the physical one we usually think of!) is responsible for sorting the pure from turbid, and deciding if X nutrient (or experience!) is good for me at this moment, and needs to be integrated into the bloodstream, or if it needs to just pass on through and be let go by the Large Intestine.

The Pericardium, or Heart Protector, is a semi-permeable membrane to keep the inner sanctum of our Heart (the residence for our Spirit) safe — it has to discern who gets to come in close, into intimate space and connection at this level?

The Pericardium’s Yang paired organ, the Triple Heater (San Jiao), helps to discern such things on the larger social scale, about how we connect with others beyond that most intimate space, like the folks we see at the grocery store, or random strangers online… How deeply do we engage with them? How much do we let their words and actions impact us?

Sometimes people are primed to utilize one primary organ/aspect of discernment — like always going to the Pericardium (Heart Protector), when the Triple Heater would be more appropriate, which can lead to a lot more hurt feelings and “taking things personally”, and consequently creating fortresses around the heart to protect ourselves from further harm…

And, learning to tune into ALL the various organs and levels of discernment can help unblock old stories and assumptions, so we can better discern things Now, noticing all the areas that are active, and getting curious about how best to engage… rather than reacting primarily to triggers from the past!

And, it helps to discern even in retrospect, which parts of ourselves were active in a situation, and to repair relationships with that awareness, so that others in our We-Space also learn more how to discern where we all are in certain states… which helps to co-regulate, and to build more resilient, supportive We-Spaces in the long term!


As always, thank you Jem. I studied and practiced The Healing Tao methodology (Mantak Chia) many years ago and although much of the specifics, like those you’ve mentioned above, are forgotten the overview is still alive in me…the felt sense of energetic connection…the oneness and holistic nature of our being…so easy for me to lose track of in our ‘hurry up!’ world. I’m always so in awe of the early Taoists and the Tai Chi inner explorers and how they functionally mapped our energetic and physical being…it’s really quite astounding the level of discernment, precise observation and patience over hundreds of years to distill these complex relationships within and without ourselves. They were natural scientists of an order that is not often seen today I think.


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