A: This is a hugely important question. I personally believe that the Holy Spirit is always right, but that we have all placed massive barriers and filters between His Mind and our conscious mind. Hearing Him accurately, then, is like trying to sketch a landscape that you are viewing through a series of wavy panes of glass. And sometimes these panes are not just wavy, but opaque, too! Although the Course doesn’t address this issue of discernment, it was an issue for Helen, for she often misheard Jesus. In fact, he once said to her, “Do not assume that you are right because an answer seems to come from Him” (Absence from Felicity, p. 395).
Over the years, I have noticed a number of characteristics of real guidance that can help us distinguish it from the counterfeit:
- When it comes, it has a deep feeling of rightness to it. It rings a bell of truth deep within.
- It challenges your surface desires and agendas; it is in a certain sense uncomfortable. It stretches you.
- It carries a higher perspective on the situation than the one you had before asking.
- The “tone” reflects a higher Source. The day before the Course dictation began, Helen wrote, “Christ says I can tell something is wrong whenever I get a ‘snappy’ answer….The tone is wrong” (Absence from Felicity, p. 198).
- It speaks to the needs of the internal and interpersonal dimensions of the situation, not just the issues of external form.
- It is fresh, out of the blue. It does not just restate thoughts you had before asking. (This is not always the case, but it is a very frequent feature of real guidance.)
- It offers a course of action that you didn’t even know was an alternative. You find yourself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that before?” Jesus once remarked that, in a certain situation, Bill “saw only one alternative, and was unable to keep an open mind” (Absence from Felicity, p. 289).
- It seems to meet everyone’s needs all at once, in remarkable and perhaps unexpected ways (even though it may not meet their needs as they have defined them). Jesus told Helen, “Any guidance which comes from Me will not jeopardize anyone” (Absence from Felicity, p. 289).
- It seems to take everything—all the facts, all the issues, all the needs, all sides of the situation—into account and wrap it all into one unified package, including things that you had not factored in at all.
- It answers a somewhat different question than you originally posed, because the perception that produced the question was part of the problem. The Course says, “And what you hear may not resolve the problem as you saw it first” (T-30.I.3:3).
- You asked for guidance with other people, and some or all of you received the same basic message. Jesus commented on this to Helen, saying, “There are joint decisions in which unanimity of response is a good indication of authenticity” (Absence from Felicity, p. 464).
A piece of genuine guidance will not necessarily have all of these characteristics. For instance, it may in fact confirm ideas you had before seeking guidance, simply because those ideas were in fact correct. However, in my experience, a real piece of guidance will hit most of the above bases.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]