The Goal: To become my truest, most authentic self and achieve my life's desires/goals
How do I accomplish this? How do I stay on track toward my goal?
By reflecting on my experience!
This helps me to keep myself directed toward my goals.
Reflection, properly done, is not just about recalling events or circumstances in our lives!
It goes deeper; it is an interior process.
It involves our emotions.
As we reflect on our experience and life circumstances we are called to attend to our emotions or feelings.
Reflection that involves our feelings is important because it keeps our reflection grounded and personal. It allows us to identify and deal with where we are, as we seek to move in the direction of becoming the person we desire to be.
Learning and growing through personal reflection requires interpreting our emotions.
Am I grateful, regretful, sad, joyful, anxious, angry, elated or frustrated?
Ignatius of Loyola came to discover and believe that emotions can spur us to growth or derail us. Hence we are called to interpret the meaning of how we are feeling. But how do we learn to interpret and to trust what our feelings are telling us?
First, a little, helpful background…
We are accustomed to seeing positive emotions as good things -- signs of our being in good space; while we consider negative emotions as unpleasant; something to be mastered or avoided.
But matters of the heart and our journey toward authenticity and spiritual growth are a bit more complex!!
Ignatius believed that while positive emotions are usually good, and negative feelings are associated with what is bad, negative emotions can, at times, spur us to growth, while sometimes our positive emotions can mislead us.
This was, according to Ignatius, particularly true of two very important emotional states he called consolation and desolation – two deeper, more global feelings that are expressive of a more universal state of our being,
These emotional states of being can tell us much about ourselves, but ONLY if we know how to interpret them.
In order to interpret them we must first recognize that there are two forces, spirits, or tendencies at work upon and within each of us.
The first tendency is movement towards light, truth, freedom, love, and life. This spirit seeks what is good for us, and for the world.
The second tendency is movement toward darkness, lies, enslavement, egoism and death.
Ignatius called the First - the Good Spirit and the Second - the Evil Spirit.
He also came to believe that Evil, bent on human destruction, seeks to conceal itself like "the enemy."
But Ignatius was convinced that humans are not doomed to succumb to the deception of evil – we can figure out its logic by learning how to carefully interpret our experiences of consolation and desolation.
In order to do so I first need to step back and assess the configuration or direction of my life at this current moment in time.
Am I going from good to bad?
Am I going from bad to good?
Knowing which direction my life is moving at any point in time helps me to interpret times of consolation or desolation.
Let's looks at some illustrative examples...
If I am moving toward the good and am feeling desolate, restless, or doubting myself it can be because the Evil Spirit is trying to sidetrack my progress. In this instance I am called to be patient with feelings of desolation and continue working for the good. Desolation if we prevail, can strengthen us. It helps us to be humble and to remember that we don't do the good just to get warm fuzzy feelings.
If I am moving away from the good, toward what is not my best self, then feelings of restlessness or desolation can be the good spirit working to get me back on track toward my true goals! The proverbial "kick in the butt" to spur us forward.
However, if I am moving away from the good toward the bad and am experiencing consolation, then I must beware!
Ignatius discovered that people who are moving from the good toward the bad can experience the evil spirit as congenial and supportive of their misguided behaviors. The evil spirit seeks to encourage us in our self-seeking ways. In this instance we are called to see consolation as false consolation and take steps to right our course.
True consolation (from the Good Spirit) always bears the fruit of light, truth, generosity, peace. True consolation will not pose obstacles in our way, though it can call us to follow a difficult course in the name of doing what is right.
Desolation from the evil spirit can be recognized if it is moving us toward darkness, deception, self-centeredness, or despair. It cleverly calls us to question our actions that are good.
In composing his rules for the "discernment of spirits," which Ignatius recognized takes experience, courage and skill, he came up with one, inviolable rule:
Rule: When in desolation, do not make any important, life altering decisions or changes!
Why: In desolation we lack the peace of mind necessary to assess alternatives properly.
Solution: When in desolation, carefully stick to a course chosen while in consolation and wait for true
consolation to return before making important life decisions!
Finally, Ignatius concludes his Rules for Discernment of Spirits with a reminder to all those who commit themselves to reflecting on their lives by exploring their emotions:
- When in desolation, remember that consolation awaits us around the corner! Just hang in there and continue doing the right thing as best you can.
- When in consolation, don't get arrogant, desolation lurks ahead, it is part of the fragile human condition.