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IGNATIAN DISCERNMENT A Simple Guide for Discernment



REFLECT
In-depth examination

DISCUSS
Group Deliberation

DISCERN
Final Decision

ACT
Strategies and Plan

Reflection in the Ignatian tradition has been used in different contexts. It is a well-known dimension of the IPP process, where reflection happens predominantly on an intellectual level. Reflection is also used as part of the Ignatian way of proceeding, mostly as part of a discernment process. This brief outline refers to the latter. Reflection, a process on its own right, is a form of “slow thinking” and can help uncover new insights and activate deeper forms of understanding, in terms of a theme/situation/reality. The process involves our own inner selves and outside forces that affect the situation/reality under consideration. But this reflection process or “informed awareness” should not just filter within the individual but should lead to action.  

Guidelines
Step 1 – Planning the process: 

  • Context: what is the situation or reality under consideration?  What are the relevant issues?  What are the mood and interests and concerns and capabilities of the group that will be reflecting? 
  • Content: given the context, what format will you use for reflection? What techniques, focus questions, or activities will be appropriate for the context? What themes will allow the reflection to be both enjoyable and educational? 

Step 2 – Framing the process:

  • Think about how you want to ‘frame’ the reflection so it is coherent and meaningful, something to hold onto.  In this regard, opening and closing readings, prayers, or meditations can serve as bookends for the reflective process as a whole: the opening reflection ‘sets the stage;’ the closing reflection reminds the group of what has occurred, or how God has been present, and what I desire and can share as the fruit of my reflection as we go forward.   

Step 3 – Focusing the process:  

  • The reflection needs to be directly tied to a particular question or aspect that draws on the theme of the reflection.  

Concrete suggestions for format: 

  • CONTENT:  It usually takes the form of a set of questions focused on the chosen theme, situation, or reality under consideration. 
  • SILENCE:  Begin reflection with a period of silence. Silence allows us to become aware of various movements (hopes / fears / expectation / etc.) rather than pushing them away.
  • OPENING:  As mentioned above, it is helpful to begin reflection with a reading, poem, prayer, or other meditation that introduces the personal reflection (or group reflection), and serves in some way to appeal for openness of mind, heart, and spirit, or to appeal for God’s presence.
  • CONTENT:  It usually takes the form of a set of questions focused on the chosen theme, situation, or reality under consideration. 
  • JOURNALING: Noting down your thoughts, feelings (spiritual movements) during (or just after this time of reflection) can help you focus, summarize and recall these later.
  • CLOSING:  Close with the other half of the ‘bookend’ that you began with – whether another reading, poem, or prayer, or a song, or even just silence.  But in whatever form, close in some way that allows you (or the group): 
    • meaningfully to summarize what has taken place  
    • to have some sense of gratitude, or hope, or resolve, or questions, or “fruits” going forward   

Guiding questions on the process of reflection (can help validate the reflection process):  

  • What did you think (feel) about this theme/situation/reality before?  
  • What do you think (feel) now?  
  • Why is this change in thought (feeling) significant to you as a person? 
  • How did your thinking (feeling) evolve? What has directed that evolution?  
  • What implication that evolution has on you (as a person) and on others and the world?  
  • What is God telling me? In which direction is He moving me?

Source: Kurt M. Denk, S.J. Making Connections, Finding Meaning, Engaging the World: Theory and Techniques for Ignatian Reflection on Service for and with Others.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Looking for inspiration or guidance through your reflection?

In our Prayer, Exams, Reflections Collection you will find resources to help you with this.

GO TO COLLECTION

Interested in more information about this process?  

Watch this short video with basic guidelines to help you focus your reflection process and make choices the Ignatian way.

WATCH VIDEO

IT GENERALLY UNFOLDS IN FOUR MOMENTS OR STEPS. 

The first step is personal, consisting of silent prayer and quiet reflection; while the last three are communitarian, consisting of three rounds of actual conversation. This method is developed based on the practice of Ignatius and his early companions. 

Before exercising formal spiritual conversation, it is necessary to have clarity with regard to the theme of the conversation. Some examples: a decision to be made, a conflict to be resolved, or a desire to understand what a group feels about a common mission. 

The Steps of Spiritual Conversation (by Rolphy Pinto SJ) 

Preparation

  • Complete the Reflect process.
  • Follow the Spiritual Conversations rules for sharing:
    • Listen to others without judgement and paying full attention to their words, tone and feelings.
    • Express your reflections as clearly as you can being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings as you speak.
  • Designate a timekeeper. Each participant will be given five to ten minutes to share their thoughts.
  • Complete the three rounds of sharing below.

First Round of Spiritual Conversation

Openness to the Spirit and mutual trust within the group are two indispensable requirements for an authentic spiritual conversation to take place. This assured, in a prayerful atmosphere, the members share in the group what each has heard from the Spirit in prayer. The focus is on the spiritual movements experienced. Such speaking is called intentional speaking as one is speaking from the heart, based on what one has heard in prayer. 

The other members of the group listen actively, setting aside any prejudice one might have, with this question in mind: 

  • What is the Holy Spirit telling me and the group through the person speaking?

It is to be kept in mind that one listens not just to the words spoken, but going beyond to listen to what the person is really trying to communicate. This is listening with the ears of your heart. This was precisely the custom of Ignatius, say when someone invited him over for a meal. He used to listen patiently and at length to his interlocutors. He would speak only when the other had finished speaking.

When we engage in formal spiritual conversation, in order to avoid manipulation or domination by one or more members, each person takes his or her turn to speak and all are given an equal amount of time. Care should be taken not to exceed the time allotted to speak. 

Second Round of Spiritual Conversation

In the second round of conversation, members of the group share (reflect) on what they heard in the First round. They respond to the questions: 

  • What are the spiritual movements I experienced while the others spoke? What did I hear?
  • Where did I feel harmony or dissonance?
  • Did I get any fresh insight?  

Third Round of Spiritual Conversation

The third round of conversation is where open discussion takes place.

The aim of this round is to recognize the dominant spiritual movements of the group as a whole and come to a consensus.  The question to be answered here is:

  • in what direction is God moving us?

While in the first two rounds of conversation there was no room for cross-questioning, here one can freely ask questions and seek clarifications, offer reflections and solutions. 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Looking for more information on Spiritual Conversations?

In this short video John Dardis, S.J. shares an introduction to this method.

WATCH VIDEO

Still unsure on how to approach Spiritual Conversations?

Read this short document describing some basics guidelines of the method of Spiritual Conversations.

READ DOCUMENT

Preparation

  • Complete the Reflect process.
  • Complete the Discuss process.
  • Prior to gathering together, provide all relevant information on each option to everyone.  
  • Take some time in silence to recall the fruits of the previous phases.
    • Begin with prayer for light from the Holy Spirit, perhaps including an invitation to share spontaneous prayer for a few moments. The goal is to focus the ongoing prayer of the community. Try situating the prayer with an appropriate passage from Scripture, the writings of the founder of the community, or other documents expressing the spirit of the community.  

Cons:

 Each person reports the reason he/she has seen in prayer which oppose the option. Reasons are noted by the Secretary. Go in sequence, no one “passes”. No speeches. One reason per person the first time around. Questions for clarifications are fine, disagreements with the judgments of the speaker should not be raised now. After the first Circuit of the group anyone who has further “cons” to offer is welcome to do so briefly. 

Break. This must be long enough for prayer over results of the previous step. Especially, examination of conscience over one’s reactions during it. Recall the reasons “pro” as well from previous prayer.

Pros:

Each reports the reasons he or she has seen in prayer which favored the option. Proceed as in Step Cons. (At end of this step “tap” for consensus – find out whether it is immediately clear to everyone what the choice should be. Usually, it’s not clear and you need to continue with the evaluation of the reasons below.

Break. Prayer over “pros” in light of “cons”. Again, be sure to examine conscience for reactions during the previous step.  

Evaluation of the reasons

An effort is made now to evaluate the weight of the reasons pro and con. One procedure to try : 

  • each indicates how he or she is leaning (pro, con, pro with amendment) and the principal reason which seems to be the moving force.
  • See whether amendments or deeper understanding will eliminate major “cons”.
  • Deal separately with the remaining points of disagreement. Those who do not see someone’s point of view, must make special effort to understand how he/she sees it – “To see with the other person’s eyes”. 
  • At an impasse, either go on to the next item (returning later to the point of contention) or break briefly for silent prayerIf at any time the atmosphere of peace  in the group should be disturbed, stop for silent prayer. 
  • Face your real situation, don’t pretend agreement or watered down the original proposal so that it loses its effective meaning, e.g. has it still got “teeth” or does it just encourage anybody who agrees with it to carry it out? 
  • To determine whether you have enough agreement to stop, ask the following:
    • If I’m in the majority: 
      • Is the maturity significant? 
      • Do I really understand how things look from minority viewpoints?  
      • Am I ready to “own” this decision? (Not: “What they decided at the meeting” but “What we decided at the meeting”. 
         
    • If I’m in the minority:  
      • Is the majority significant? 
      • Have the majority made a strong effort to see how things look from minority viewpoints? Have I done the same about majority viewpoints? 
      • Do I find in the majority position a conclusion that is likely to be better for us here and now, granted that it may not be the best thing that could be done or the eventual thing to which God will call us?  

If all the questions can be answered “yes” it is time to stop. In that case, the decision should be clear, and confirmation should be experienced together through shared deep peace – finding God together. 

Prayer for confirmation

  • End with prayer of thanks and of offering the choice to the Father, reaffirming the group’s willingness to carry out the decision. Often this prayer will include spontaneous shared prayer.  

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Still not sure on how to approach the discernment process?

In this short video John Dardis, S.J. shares simple tips to practice Discernment in the everyday.

WATCH VIDEO

Looking for more information about Discernment?

In our Discernment Collection you will find relevant resources on discernment, including documents, videos, lessons, and articles among others.

GO TO COLLECTION

Guidelines
Implementing the decision

Current State Evaluation

  • Recall the fruits of the discernment process with an Examen.
  • Evaluate the current state in the light of your decision.
    • How is this decision aligned to the mission (school, personal)?
    • How is this decision affected by the context?

Desired State Evaluation

  • Define specific priorities and/or strategies for your decision.
  • Define specific goals to be achieved to implement the defined priorities.

Planning process

  • Define a plan of action for each goal.
  • Estimate resources and sources.
  • Define a monitoring system.
  • Define a communication plan.

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