by Terri Stewart

The neuroscientists point out that making decisions involves the prefrontal cortex in that it reduces worry and anxiety. Additionally, it calms the limbic system and a “good enough” decision involves the prefrontal cortex in a way that makes people feel as though they have more control.

I love the idea of “good enough” decisions. Sometimes I get hung up on making “the best” decision. Neuroscience says that is a bad idea! Making “the best” decision “brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity.” Or, it fires the wrong part of the brain.

I remember, in my brief studies of Ignatian Spirituality, that in St. Ignatius’ rules there was a point in time on our path towards living lives of love, that people no longer make choices between good and bad. The choice becomes between good and good. Eventually, over time, the differences are barely discernible. Do I choose “this good” or “that good.” Waiting for the interior movement to identify what he called feelings of consolation or desolation could take forever. Perhaps, no one is displeased if you choose good. A radical thought, I know. But any choice towards good, is, in itself, a good choice.

Ignatius did specify seven qualities for entering discernment:

  1. Openness
  2. Generosity
  3. Courage
  4. Interior Freedom
  5. Habit of Reflection
  6. Good Priorities
  7. Not Confusing the Ends with the Means

I am wondering if a ritual for decision making is needed or if a ritual to celebrate a decision is needed. Or both. Hmm. Also, remembering that ritual, in itself, increases feelings of calm, control, and peace. So neuroscience is on ritual’s side.

I think this may take up more space and more time. But thoughtful decisions generally require more than a slip of paper! In discerning good from good, I wonder if relying on our artistic senses might help us find the heart’s calling. Yes! Letting go of the words and entering into the artistic expression of art, poetry, or music. I suggest setting aside a good chunk of time. Four hours or more.

The ritual might look like this

Sacred Space

Form a sacred space. Set up a work space. Bring to your space the things that ground you. That could be holy texts, symbols, flowers, photos of your cloud of witnesses, etc. Also bring to the work space the things you need to be creative. I’m going to borrow from SoulCollage(R). I am a SoulCollage(R) facilitator and think it lends itself here with a few modifications. The art supplies you will need are: magazines, pictures and photos; glue; scissors; cardstock (5×7 is easy to find, 5×8 is the typical SoulCollage(R) size), pencil, pen, journal. I also recommend having some meditative music playing in the background. Spotify has a meditation playlist that is pretty good!

Declare Your Intention

I say, in my head or out loud, “Before me, I have a decision between _______________. I am here to discern the good path.”  Write this down in your journal.

Do It! Embody Your Ritual!

Create a typical pros/cons list before you begin. On two facing pages, list out decision 1, pros, cons and on the right page list decision 2, pros, cons. When you are done, pause and check-in with yourself. Lay your hand on the decision 1 list. Do you have feelings of happiness? sadness? anxiety? Take a moment and write down your feelings at the bottom of the page for decision 1.

Lay your hand on the decision 2 list. Do you have feelings of happiness? sadness? anxiety? Take a moment and write down your feelings at the bottom of the page for decision 2.

Is clarity rising?

Wisdom cards are coming! Next, take two pieces of cardstock. Lightly write on the backside of each piece of cardstock one of the decisions. New job/current job; back to school/current education is enough; pizza/lasagna? (ok, kidding aside, I’m on a huge food thing right now).

Turn the cardstock over. Make sure you don’t know which is which. Mix them up. Shuffle them. Don’t look! Trust the process. The process for each card will be the same.

Choose a card. Place it before you. Start looking for images in your magazines, photos, or books. Start pulling out images that are screaming, “use me!” “I’m yours!” “Choose!” Start layering the pictures onto the card in front of you. Typically, we think of having a background image and a few foreground images. Cut and glue to your heart’s content. Repeat the process for the second card.

Return to your journal. Have two facing pages open. Look at your cards. Are they naming themselves? If so, write the names across the pages, one on each page. If not, write a description of the card. Maybe the name will come.

Take a moment and write down any emotional reactions you have to the cards when you are viewing them.

Now for the reveal! Turn the cards over and see what they are saying. Write your decision under your card name in your journal. Like this:

-decision 1-

soulcollagewhaleNow is the time to interrogate the card. With your potential decision in mind, put yourself into the images on your card. Look at the image. Become the image in the card. Now speak from the card’s perspective. Answer each prompt in your journal. Writing for about 5 minutes for each prompt.

-Complete the sentence. I am the one who ______________ . Write until you are left without words to write or until your time is concluded, your choice.
-Ask the card, “What do you have to give me relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.
-Ask the card, “What do you want from me relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.
-Ask the card, “Is there anything else you have to tell me today relating to decision 1?” Again, write for 5 minutes or until you are without words.

soulcollagecowDo this for each card. When you are done, hold both cards together. Has a decision settled into your body? Have you moved forward in clarity? It is possible that it may become cloudy before it is clear!

If a decision is clear, circle it. Or glue glitter onto it! Or decorate it!

Closing the Space

What feels right to me to close the space is a sacred time of cleaning up. Putting away the magazines. Washing the table if the glue got a little wild. All of that, within the time of holiness. Whole-iness. But having the cards and journal centered so that you are working around them, honoring their presence in the space.

At the time of completion. Turn the music off, face your cards and journal, and make a deep bow honoring the work that you have done and the decision you have made. Acknowledge the joy of a decision and the grief of letting go of the “what could be” in the alternative.

Read this:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

May it be so.

OK. This is a more complex ritual. But decision making is complicated. It involves our self-worth, self-perception, often loved ones who are relying on us, and resources that we may risk. A complex decision deserves to be honored. If you like your card that became your decision, you may want to keep it nearby to remind you of what went into your becoming.



Deborah Globus/LaPadre’s link to creating ritual:

Time article on neuroscience and rituals:

Scientific American article on why rituals work:

© 2016, words and photographs, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

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