Are you in throes of a life decision right now, with no clear path forward?
The life decisions I have most struggled to make have often been a choice between continuing on a current path or taking one of many possible offshoots. It’s tempting to default to the current path; it feels safe and secure because it is familiar. However, familiar or not, we are always moving forward in a particular direction, and the outcome is never fully known. No matter which path we’re on, we’re moving toward something.
So, a good question may be: what am I moving toward?
Here I find it helpful to draw on the concepts of consolation and desolation found in Ignatian discernment. This type of discernment is an approach to decision-making from our namesake St. Ignatius of Loyola. David Lonsdale defines it as the “spiritual interpretation and evaluation of feelings, and particularly the direction in which we are moved by them.”
Regardless of a specific religion or spirituality, we all benefit from the act of reflecting on our feelings and noticing the direction they compel us. Observing whether you are drawn towards feelings of consolation or desolation can be a profound source of inner guidance and begin to bring your heart’s true desire into focus.
Let’s first consider feelings of desolation. Desolation is described by Ignatius as:
obtuseness of soul, turmoil within it, or disquiet from various agitations and temptations. These move one toward a lack of faith, without hope and without love. Various dictionary definitions of the word “desolate” make it straightforward: sad, alone, empty, bleak, devastated.
Do you have feelings of desolation right now? What is the source of them?
Feelings of consolation provide a significant contrast. Lonsdale describes consolation this way: direction is toward growth, creativity and a genuine fullness of life and love in that feelings of consolation draw us to a fuller, more effective, generous love of God and other people, and to a right love of ourselves. To this, Fr. James Martin adds that consolation comprises “interior feelings that lead to peace, tranquility, and joy. Here, in a time of decision, consolation is a sense of peace and of rightness of choice. Consolation leads you to feel encouraged, confident, and calm in your decision.”
Do you have feelings of consolation right now? What is the source of them? I hope that amidst any pressure you feel to make a decision, you will sit with these questions of consolation and desolation for a little while. Noticing your answers to them may not provide an immediate solution, but my hope is they will at least provide a little clarity about what you are and want to be moving toward.