Discernment: Consolations and Desolations

People come to therapists for discernment at the very least. They want to understand and to be understood. They want wisdom or insight and perhaps a plan for change. Some therapists will talk to them about “consolations and desolations,” a skill that Carole is familiar with. Most evenings before going to bed, she asks me my consolations and desolations of the day.

I find it easy to find the desolations, the things that have gone wrong or where I have failed. I can isolate my criticisms without much effort and I can deeply feel the criticisms of others.

But consolations? What do you mean? Something went right?

Consolations and desolations are about our orientation to our lives and the direction our life is going — upward and outward toward God [consolation] or downward and inward away from all things divine [desolation].

Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation. (See LINK HERE)

 

Desolations are downward and inward slopes

  • turns us in on ourselves
  • drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
  • cuts us off from community
  • makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
  • takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
  • covers up all our landmarks
  • drains us of energy

Consolations are upward and outward slopes.

  • directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
  • lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
  • bonds us more closely to our human community
  • generates new inspiration and ideas
  • restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
  • shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
  • releases new energy in us

 

What to do…

In Desolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and ask for help.
  2. Seek out companionship.
  3. Don’t go back on decisions you made in consolation.
  4. Stand still and remember your inner map.
  5. Recall a time of consolation and go back to it imagination.
  6. Look for someone who needs your help and turn your attention toward them.
  7. Go back to 1.

In Consolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and offer thanks.
  2. Store this moment in your memory to return to when things get tough.
  3. Add this experience to the narrative of your life.
  4. Use the energy you feel to further your deepest desires.
  5. Let the surplus energy fuel the things you don’t like doing and do them.
  6. Go back to 1.

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

My Virginity Mistake (Eryn-Faye Frans)

What do you think about a kind of faith that promises to remain a virgin prior to marriage? Here is the hard part: what if you are 21 years of old, madly in love with someone, believe you have a covenant future and deeply involved in your faith community?

Does sexual and emotional attachment (as in, what do I do with my surging feelings?) before marriage interrupt or harm one’s attachment towards God and faith? Does virginity before marriage make it more likely that you will have a joyful sexual life once married? Perhaps you think that you have made a “virginity mistake.”

Eryn-Faye Frans is a friend of mine and has been for many years. She is a Toronto lawyer and is also “Canada’s Passion Coach” who confronts sexual issues that may be uncomfortable for some and deeply welcomed by many others. And she has a special interest in the church and its mission in the world.

In her blog, Eryn-Faye responds to a Salon.com article (also very interesting) on the debate around faith and virginity. I found the discussion very thoughtful and I hope that you do as well. Also, check out my friend’s web site at ErynFaye.com.

She has published “The Essential Elements of Sex” and I use this book in my marital practice.

WWJD? and Ego-Centric Bias

I am in the advice-giving business. At least I am when I am worn down from 8 hours of listening and I want to have a five-minute private audience for my thoughts and opinions.

I have discovered that most people are pretty bad at taking advice from me and probably from others as well. My client-friends don’t mind listening to my stories, smile at my jokes, engage some of my ideas, but they mostly glaze over when I get into my advice-giving mode. And I don’t really think that they will do much with the pearls once I have tossed them in their general direction.

Psychologists call this “egocentric bias,” that is, people generally figure that they can operate their lives best with their own hard-learned advice. I get this. I have people offering me advice all the time and mostly I ignore it. (Carole has been advising me for 40 years what vitamins and medicines I should take when I have a cold.) Still I carry on dispensing my treasured wisdom, knowing it will probably not be invested with the kind of thoroughness I think it should.

This egocentric bias happens everywhere: doctor’s offices, weight loss centres, guidance classes in high schools, used car dealerships, Starbucks (“you ought to try the …”). So, when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you think I should marry Jeff?” they actually don’t care much about your advice. They are probably just structuring the passing of time or looking for confirmation of what they already want to do.

I think I am okay with people, including my client-friends, ignoring my advice (“So, what did you get out of that homework I recommended from our last meeting?”). But sometimes my ideas are really great. So then why don’t I take my own advice more often?

One question works for me in advice-taking. WWJD: “What would _______ (Jesus) do?” (Fill in the blank with whomever you like?)

That question makes me receptive to advice and puts me in a mind space to not quickly resist the wisdom of others. It shifts my reactivity. Sometimes I say in my mind, “What would Mom do?” since I would really love to know (she died much too young). I sometimes put in the names of others that I admire or are mentors to me. Sometimes I put in the names of my kids, as in “What would David do?” or “What would Christine do?” If it has anything to do with computers or technology I ask, “What would Brent do?” He’s my son-in-law and is brilliant in ways I am ignorant. Somehow this “identifying question” makes advice palatable and makes me think outside of my egocentric bias.

This kind of identifying with someone helps me make decisions. I become part of a community of thorough opinions and applicable wisdom. I get to share in collected brilliance rather than thoughtlessly “dis” it. Amazing what an identifying question can do.

The idea of identifying questions is that if we can make a personal connection with someone we admire, then we can take the advice and apply the wisdom. If we are told what is right and good without having that personal identification, then we are more likely to reject it, forget it and not benefit from it.