I bring this topic up today because I recently had a student's inner skeptic show up in full-force in a session. It was wonderful. It was wonderful in the sense that I could begin to reflect back this aspect of my student. So often, the inner skeptic goes into hiding in the sessions that I have with students. It kinda hunkers down to wait out the storm. Secretly, it thinks to itself that all this spiritual stuff is nonsense. It doesn't believe we are all interconnected, and all this love-talk is just silly romanticism.
Ah, dear skeptical friend, you are simply afraid.
The Un-Intertwining of Judgment and DiscernmentSome time ago, I wrote about "The Difference Between Discernment and Judgment." It's an important post. Essentially, judgment comes from the ego; discernment comes from the clear-sight of our inner knowing. However, most of us are so out of practice that everything is intertwined. This makes it difficult to tell right from left, up from down. That's why a good deal of practice is often helpful for many people to listen to their inner knowing. But you can't do it if you run away from that vulnerable space inside you and use every trick in the book that the skeptic knows. I won't tell you that this will be a quick process. I won't tell you that it will be a long process. It will be what it is, but only you can dedicate yourself to pull these two apart.
In a very simple way, discernment is like looking at the sky. "The sky is blue," you say. Judgment is like saying, "I hate that blue sky" or "I love that blue sky" or "That blue sky is beautiful." There is always this additional layer of personal preference added on to what you see. It's why so many relationships go so badly. People have placed so much judgment on their romantic relationships, colleagues, bosses, employees, and friendships that they have no idea who any of these people are. But that's fitting since most people have no idea who they are. Hence you see why it is critically important to go within.
What Is the Inner Skeptic?But who is the skeptic?
What is it doing? What function does it serve?
The skeptic has a role. If it did not, you would not have created it. I believe that it can be very helpful for people to figure out this role. I always encourage people to have a personal journal for things like this. It's important to break apart these aspects of yourself to see what they are up to. Are they really serving your best interests? Do you even know what your best interests are? A lot of times we think we know what our best interests are, but more often than not, we don't. For many people, there is often a big illuminating moment when they get something that they thought they wanted, and it turns out to not be as great as they hoped. Or it's really great, but the moment quickly passes. They may soon get lost in yearning and striving to get that moment back, which ultimately generates more and more suffering.
So to begin to deconstructing the inner skeptic, you need to start figuring out what you are about and why you are doing what you are doing. Then you can turn your attention to the skeptic.
The Land of "I Don't Believe That"Discernment and the spiritual path aren't in the land of believing everything you hear. Your skeptic may want to tell you that. Your skeptic may have an impression that you have to swallow a religion or spiritual path hook, line, and sinker (I'm really not sure where that expression comes from. Is that a fishing reference?). Anyway, that kind of credulous spiritual seeking is nothing but trouble. It is brainless and shows a lack of responsibility and discernment. I never want any of you to simply believe everything I write or say in my videos. I am teaching the reverse. I am teaching you to learn how to consciously question life and to see what is before you without projecting your own ideas, judgments, and assumptions on to things. The more you do this, the more clarity you will have in your life.
But primarily, the skeptic doesn't really believe in anything. It can be cynical, sarcastic, or a kind of know-it-all. (And yes, I have plenty of experience in this because I've had to work with a pretty nasty inner skeptic of my own). The skeptic thinks it is protecting you, and thanks to those few, but powerful spiritual teachers who have abused their powers, the skeptic arising in Western Culture is particularly distrusting of anything spiritual. So it is always ready to turn from the spiritual path at the slightest disturbance, which is often right when things are starting to really get moving for someone.
Breaking Down the SkepticTo really break the skeptic apart mean to understand your own motivations and the social motivations around you, especially your family. In Western Culture, we worship money, fame, and science. If we don't see tangible results from something immediately, we devalue it. We say that it's not worth our time. Science has become the much-vaunted ideology of our time, but it's a strange thing in many regards. All science tells us is what has happened in the past under certain conditions at a certain time with a certain sample. However, we boldly apply the results of that experiment as something that will continue to occur as in the original experiments to a wide variety of situations. But smart scientists know that we never really know what will happen. It's more true to speak of science in probabilities and likelihoods of something happening, but that's not what we do.
And make no mistake about it, I like science. It's pretty amazing, although I think it has out-stripped our moral abilities and ethical intelligence to use it appropriately. We can cause so much more suffering now than at any other time of human development; it's quite frightening. In some ways, I think that science and technology have created an impetus for the arising of consciousness to balance out this part of the equation so that we don't eradicate ourselves.
All of this is to simply show where the skeptic often likes to hide. It likes to hide behind science and popular ideas about what is important like money and fame. It likes to hide in family values. It likes to hide behind religious texts. It likes to use other people's ideas ("Well, so and so said this, so that's why I believe that."). But it cannot hide from the truth, and the more you look from a space of inner knowing, the clearer it becomes that all the skeptic really is is a function of fear.
Facing Your FearsAgain and again, the skeptic is a tool of fear. It's lies to get you to turn away from embracing love can keep you trapped for a life time. Clearly, the mind that has been healed of this kind of skepticism to allow discernment to take its place can be an immensely powerful thing. In effect, you can't be fooled, which is what the skeptic thought it was doing all along. But the truth is that you're being fooled by the master fooler. You are the fool, and only you can bring wisdom into your life.
At first, you probably won't want to hear the truth. (I spoke about how people fear wisdom and hearing the truth in a recent YouTube video.) We are so used to lies from within and without that we don't often know what to do when someone speaks the truth. It's kind of like the emperor's new clothes. The emperor is so used to being lied to that being told the truth, e.g. he's naked, is shocking. Consequently, as you get closer to the truth inside you at times, your skeptic may go on over-drive. You'll hear all kinds of fearful thoughts about how you'll be hurt, this path is bullshit, and why do you have a spiritual path/teacher/healer/guide anyway? All of these last ditch efforts are meant to hook you back into fear. They may work again and again, but at some point, you may get sick of this. At some point, you may just laugh.
"Oh silly, skeptic. You do not know what you are talking about," You may say.
Then, it's time to let go and drop a little deeper. See if you can release a little more fear. See what follows.
The Rehabilitation of the SkepticThe skeptic will be reborn. It is reborn through the awareness that simply sees life. Let us call this reborn skeptic the "Discerner." The discerner does not operate from fear, control, shame, anger, or any of the usual crappy little tricks and attachments of the skeptic. Practicing being in the space of the discerner makes life exceptionally clear. It becomes exceptionally clear what you need to do or whether you need to do anything. The issues around safety melt away, which is one of the primary fears of the skeptic. Again and again, where you would have been afraid or gone into a state of disbelief, denial, or some other form of mental resistance, you simply observe. You find out just how few things require responses.
So much of what we say from the space of the skeptic is nonsense and intellectual junk. It has little value. The inner skeptic generally is trying to maintain and build an ego sense of self. Conversely, the discerner is a much more relaxed space of awareness. You don't have to prove who you are. It doesn't matter. Being you just requires you to be you. There's no effort to this. For those who have developed skeptics who are trying to control the spiritual path and spiritual growth, this is an important reminder. Nothing needs to be forced here to be you. Nothing really is required to rehabilitate and transform the inner skeptic because the discerner is always here. From this space, your decisions are much easier to make and life is so much easier to live. The struggle is gone. You can simply be you.
The sky and yellow flowers picture on this page comes from photographer, Becky Stiller. You can see her work on her Flickr account.