Four Strategies for Discernment – Ignatian Spirituality

In the retreat of St. Ignatius there are various “rules for discerning spirits” – what we would simply call principles of wise discernment. There are four helpful strategies in these rules that you can use when trying to make a good decision.

  1. Arrange the pros and cons.
    Make a list of all the benefits of a particular route. Then make a list of all the benefits of not going this route. If you have more than one route to consider, create list pairs for each possibility. Sometimes when we actually write down the pros and cons, we see things that weren’t obvious before.
  2. Try it for the size.
    Imagine you’ve already made the decision. For example, you have decided on a teaching diploma. Now pretend for several days – maybe a week – as if you were in the process of getting the certificate and looking for an apprenticeship. Notice how you react emotionally to this imaginary life. How does it feel to have made this decision? This method takes imagination, but it can be very insightful.
  3. How would you advise someone in your situation?
    Imagine that your dilemma belongs to someone else and that person comes to you for advice. How would you go about looking at the situation? What advice would you give? What questions would you ask? Then try to apply your advisor’s wisdom to yourself.
  4. How will you see this at the end of your life?
    Imagine the end of your life is near; Indeed, St. Ignatius suggested that people imagine lying on their own death bed. Look at your whole life – what you have done and why, what you are grateful for, what you regret. Given this long view, how do you see the present insight you are trying to gain?

Photo by imelenchon via Morguefile.

Previous articleA larger circle of friends Vinita Hampton Wright is the editor-in-chief of Loyola Press’s trading books division. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship, and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality and blogged for Days of Deepening Friendship from 2009 to 2015. In recent years she has helped guide small groups through the 19th Note to the Retreat. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats and a dog. In her “free time” she is currently working on her next novel.

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