Consolation and Desolation

It’s hardly fair—to the material or to readers—to limit discussion of consolation and desolation to one post! But these topics will come up in some form during Lent. Also, many of you in the DDF community are already somewhat familiar with Ignatian spirituality and terms such as consolation and desolation. So here is a brief summary.

Consolation and desolation are states of the soul that, if we pay attention to them, can guide our steps and aid our prayer. When in consolation, we are growing in love and grace, moving toward God and God’s desires for us. When in desolation, we are moving away from God, and we experience a diminishment of peace and other marks of spiritual growth and health.

It’s important to understand that consolation does not always feel good, and desolation does not always feel bad. False consolation can give us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction in situations and activities that are not enhancing our spiritual growth. And sometimes when we are moving in the right direction, we can experience emotional turmoil, even deep sadness.

Many, many writers and spiritual teachers have described desolation and consolation, but I always fall back to Margaret Silf’s effective summary (from Inner Compass, 84–85):


  • 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 the 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


  • 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

As we learn to recognize when we are in desolation and consolation, we can respond accordingly—changing course (through prayer, community, discernment, spiritual direction) when in desolation, and staying the course when in consolation.

Please feel free to add to our wisdom on this topic.


  1. Jody says

    Thanks so much for the reflection and the summary of consolation and desolation. I’ve been trying to learn more and more about Ignatian Spirituality and have read most of Inner Compass, but had forgotten this explanation. Thanks for including it in today’s reflection. I have really been enjoying your thoughts and reflections on discernment as I am going through a period of discernment in my life.

    • Vinita says

      Jody, I’m glad the DDF site is helpful to you. I think most of us are discerning nearly all the time, but sometimes we go through more intensive periods of it. Grace as you continue–Vinita

  2. E.A. says

    Thank you, Vinita, for sharing this topic and the list from Silf. It is useful and very clear. I am part of a 34-week Ignatian retreat, using Creighton’s Online Ministry book, and the group of about 30 of us are guided by several directors, meeting w. us bi-weely, though in touch by email and phone any time. WE are indeed fortunate to have this available to us. Your DDF posts enhance our daily prayer and add a fresh perspective, as always. Thank you again. I hope to post this e-mail in my kitchen, so I can see it daily. :-)

    • Vinita says

      So glad you’re going through the extended retreat. And glad DDF is helpful in that process. Peace–Vinita

  3. Linda G says

    Mark E. Thibodeaux SJ ‘s book, “God’s Voice Within” (Loyola Press, Nov. 2010) is an excellent study vehicle for this tool. I took notes as I read.

  4. Stephen says

    I have read God’s Voice With, but I am a fan of Margaret Silf. I think this practice can get confusing because as this post said, we can be moving in the right direction yet still feel “bad”. That happens a lot in life. Also, if someone suffers from a medical condition such as depression — that needs to factor in. I def believe God speaks through our emotions, thoughts and intuitions, but we can’t always go by those. In the end, I truly believe we are always headed in the right direction even if we are off course. God is with us, guiding us, showing us. Any way will eventually get you there and it’s a journey. God finds us wherever we are. That is my consolation.

    • Linda G says

      Good thinking, I never considered having clinical depression — that would color it all right. I think too that we need to look at the fruits of what we do although those too are not always readily discernible.

  5. Pat says

    I thank you for these thoughts and the Deepening Friendship reflections. I just received the copy of God’s Voice Within. and It seems although perhaps late most timely. I just discovered that i must undergo additional surgery for possible breast Cancer and so consolation and desolation is a most pertinent topic. I have been fighting with reflections and meditation and prayer to stay positive, Thanks again, Pat

    • Linda G says

      You said: ” … I have been fighting with reflections and meditation and prayer to stay positive,” Oops — try to RELAX with those instead of fighting. That’s very important in this case (speaking here as a (former) care aide); meanwhile I (and you) pray that God will guide the hands and eyes of your doctor(s) and that you’ll get the best possible prognosis.

  6. Stephen says

    “Wanderer, your footsteps are
    the road, and nothing more;
    wanderer, there is no road,
    the road is made by walking.
    By walking one makes the road,
    and upon glancing behind
    one sees the path
    that never will be trod again.
    Wanderer, there is no road–
    Only wakes upon the sea.”
    –Antonio Machado

    • Vinita says

      Thanks for this–I was not familiar with this poem. It’s a great desscription of the spiritual sojourn. Peace–Vinita

  7. Stephen says

    “Making sense of everything is not an obligation or even a possibility. Acceptance of mystery is an act not of resignation but humility.”
    –Rabbi David Wolpe,

  8. Patrick says

    For a more precise discussion of the dynamics of consolation and desolation, I’d recommend Fr. Timother Gallagher’s book “TDiscernment of Spirits” – these are not concepts we want to breeze by in ambiguity and confusion; there are important distinctions to be made on the level of feelings and therefore what is truly the type of spirtiual consolation and desolation that Ignatius had in mind as guides for souls:

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