The Difference Between Consolation and Feeling Good

By Margaret Silf
From Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality

young man sitting at rest with eyes closed - mavo/

It isn’t always obvious that there is a difference between experiencing spiritual consolation and simply feeling good, or between finding oneself in spiritual desolation and simply feeling low. The effects can be very similar, but in fact the source is quite different.

To understand this fundamental difference, we really do need to notice the direction of our attention as we go through the experience. The feel-good factor, as cultivated by politicians in particular, and its counterpart of feeling low, is intrinsically focused on ourselves. Things happen in our own kingdoms that trigger these ups and downs. In national terms, a reduction in taxation, for example, is supposed to lift our hearts. At home, a family row can pitch us into the depths. If we could see the way our feelings are directed, we would notice that they are pointing in toward ourselves and the satisfaction or disruption of our own personal worlds. This is completely natural, of course, and it is part of what makes us human. However, it can very easily, as we know, be deliberately manipulated, or affected by such things as our changing body chemistry or how well we slept last night. These swings are not at all the same thing as spiritual consolation or desolation.

And the difference seems to lie in the focus of the experience. Spiritual consolation is experienced when our hearts are drawn toward God, even if this happens in circumstances that the world would regard as negative. It is a signal that our hearts, at least for that moment, are beating in harmony with the heart of God. Consolation is the experience of this deep connectedness to God, and it fills our being with a sense of peace and joy. The epicenter of the experience lies in God and not in ourselves.

Excerpt from Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf.

Related Links
How to Know That a Choice Is Right by William A. Barry, SJ
How Ignatian Spirituality Gives Us a Way to Discern God’s Will by David L. Fleming, SJ