This morning, one of my students asked for advice: I want to spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s place but my father doesn’t want me to because it’s against his principles. Should I listen to my desire or to his?

A question that requests a specific quality. The same one that Pope Francis, the spiritual reference of two billion humans, shared when he became elected: discernment.

What is this? was asked.« As many people are blindly following my decisions, I need to be sure that my recommendations bring our disciples towards God and not elsewhere » he replied.

How do you do so? was then asked. « I need to be as close as possible to those who suffer » he answered.

In my understanding, he is practicing two competencies. The first one is to develop empathy by putting himself in the reality of the one who listens to his advice. We all seek to free ourselves from suffering, he goes near the poor, the sick, the hungry, the victim, the desperate. The second one is to find silence to connect to that void where insight, wisdom, and knowledge permeate in our mind and cells. For this, he prays or meditates regularly.

So what should my student do? How should she make the right decision? She is a 25 years old young lady, raised in a traditional Muslim family and educated in a French high school, who just came back from several years of studies in England. We can easily imagine the clash of generation and values…

Becoming empathetic with ourselves is the first step. For me, it really started at 51 when I raised this fundamental question: How do I love myself? Like eating an elephant one fork after the other, it’s a step-by-step venture in the discovery of who I really am. With time, I added another fundamental question: And if I were to die tomorrow, what will I do now? This second question gave me the courage to challenge belief systems and emotional injuries.

Nobody else than my student can answer those questions for herself. By doing so, she will feel what is right: staying with her father or going to her boyfriend’s home.

But is this enough to feel it’s THE right choice?

As we visualize the experience we go through when answering these two questions, we also feel the stress or urge to act they have created. We need now to calm down and surrender. Here comes the second competency: silence.

It is only by kindly experiencing this void that a powerful and faithful decision can be made. A decision that is « right » here and now. A decision that can provoke unexpected consequences. A decision that lets us be agile to quickly learn and adapt if it was a mistake. A decision that helps us to walk on the path towards freedom, compassion, and enlightenment.