When St. Ignatius talks about moving between consolation and desolation, he is acknowledging a cycle that many of us can readily recognize if we take time to consider it. Another way that can help us to identify this cycle in our life is to consider the difference of when we are at our best vs. when we have given in to the darker half of our personality. When talking with folks about this, I like to present is as recognizing good you vs. bad you.
Good you is present at those times in which we act from a place of gentleness and relaxed attentiveness. Maybe it comes after a week of vacation when we feel refreshed and rejuvenated, or perhaps it comes after some beneficial change that gives us a new outlook and a renewed opportunity for hope. Either way, we should recognize those patterns of thinking, feeling, and desiring which come from good you. We should also recognize that such actions come from a place of greater interior harmony and awareness of God’s love.
In contrast, bad you is often the result of frustration, stress, and the anxieties that tend to choke our ability to erupt into spontaneous acts of kindness and inspiration. If we investigate bad you we would notice that features that dominate this part of our lives is a kind of inhibiting self-consciousness and a constant habit of second-guessing ourselves. Even worse, we tend to exasperate the problem by fueling bad you with a steady diet of negative ruminations and toxic thinking.
The key insight of both St. Ignatius and the Desert Fathers is that we have to learn to reject bad you when he appears in our life. First, we must be careful not to try and drown out bad you with pleasures and comforts such as food, alcohol, entertainment, or other forms of escape. In addition, instead of trying to reason with him and instead of trying to explain him away, we need to learn to observe his deceits without judgment, and gently invite the Lord into our suffering and pain. In time, we learn to see that while his lies may seem grounded in truth, we are better off not listening to them in the moment.
To do this, we must embrace a kind of middle ground between trying to repress bad you and giving into the disorder he creates in our life. This middle ground helps us to observe our suffering in a way that brings greater freedom and eventually leads us back to good you. Often, we defeat bad you when we let go of our desire to panic and instead embrace a kind of gentle watchfulness. Such a calm power of observance is the fruit of a heart that takes time to explore experience within the confines of mental prayer.
Now, there is one feature of this cycle that should be said. Ultimately, good you is that image and likeness of God in which we are created and which is renewed in us through Baptism. Along these lines, bad you is that aspect of ourselves which still remains under the influence of the devil. Learning to embrace good you is nothing short of embracing Jesus Christ as he comes to dwell in each one of us. Today, let us embrace this presence of Christ within!