What Moves and What Stays: The Essential Wisdom of Discernment

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - 5:30 am

What Moves and What Stays: The Essential Wisdom of Discernment

Discernment is key to every wisdom tradition. It’s about sorting out the stuff of life — the experiences we have, the people we walk with, the “signs and signals” we pick up — by asking good questions about their meaning and importance in the living of our lives.

Is this my problem, or does it belong to someone else?

Is this something from which I can learn, or have I already been there and done that?
Is this life-giving for me and those around me, or is it death-dealing in ways small or large?

Is this something to which I can give myself, or must I let it go?

I’m inspired by William Stafford‘s poem about discernment. Like much of Stafford’s work, it is simple and mysterious at the same time. I don’t understand all of it, but that’s OK — there’s a lot about myself and life I don’t understand either! Still, I feel certain that the poem contains some critical clues to discernment, not least in its last few lines.

Deciding
by William Stafford

One mine the Indians worked had
gold so good they left it there
for God to keep.

At night sometimes you think
your way that far, that deep,
or almost.

You hold all things or not, depending
not on greed but whether they suit what
life begins to mean.

Like those workers you study what moves,
what stays. You bow, and then, like them,
you know —

What’s God, what’s world, what’s gold.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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