“Human beings are moved by a dense complex of motives, both in the things we do from day to day and in our big decisions. What drives a young woman to become a doctor or a young man to be an engineer? Many things contribute: success, altruism, interest. Or what drives a woman who has smoked for years to quit or an obese man to get thin? Again, many things contribute: fear of death, desire for health, and concern of family. But they all interact in a kind of movement that eventually drives the person to act… Ignatius learned to think about those dense complexes of motives—images, ideas, attractions, and revulsions—as “spirits.”
… Consolation and Desolation
Ignatius noted that these dense complexes of motives and energies take on two configurations, which he identified with consolation and desolation. He discovered that both consolation and desolation can move you toward God or pull you away from God. Then he noted that sometimes consolation comes from a good spirit and sometimes from a bad spirit, and he noted the same thing about desolation…”
~ Joseph Tetlow, SJ. (Excerpted from here)
This above excerpt is from Tetlow’s excellent 2008 publication Making Choices in Christ: The Foundations of Ignatian Spirituality. I highly recommend this little book. Tetlow has also has a related 2016 publication: Always Discerning: An Ignatian Spirituality for the New Millennium (its not clear whether this is a revised edition of Making Choices, or a variation on that earlier title more aimed at a more general readership and designed to engage the new interest in Ignatian spirituality that has resulted from Jesuit priest / bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio being elected as the Roman Catholic Church’s 266th Pope.
I also want to highlight Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ contemporary take on the Examen – a method of prayer Ignatius insisted his fellow Jesuits do daily. He regarded it as the most important and needful practice. Its aim is to discern the work and movement of the Spirit beneath the surface of ones life, beneath the surface of our consciousness / awareness. Change and growth occurs at the level of ones thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and motivations (desires etc). It is a practice aimed at “finding God in the diverse everyday happenings and circumstances of ones own life and living. The examen helps us journey into our depths. Thibodeaux’s book is titled Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from your Day (2015). It is a very practical and helpful guidebook. He will provide you with a diverse range of Examen outlines for your daily use.
I think its increasingly important to be able to “read the signs of the times”, but more than that, as we are pulled and pushed from/in every direction, it will become critical to learn to discern what Tetlow calls our own “lifeworld”, and God’s activity within it.