Decision-Making And The Five Steps

Chapter 27 of Orientations Vol 2 Part B

Theory -- Process -- Procedures

        Presently, as members of the human family, we are more aware than ever that the problems of our contemporary world can only be solved by our cooperation with each other for the benefit of humankind and the planet. Ignatian spirituality can foster such active cooperation through its encouragement of human responsibility through conscious decision-making in harmony with God's initiatives in the nurturing of God's reign on our planet. The two notes from the Contemplation to Gain Love attest to this:

        These two notes are the articulation of the theme that begins in notation [15] where the spiritual guide is instructed to stand in the centre, like a balance, to allow God to communicate immediately and personally with the directee:
... while a directee is on the Exercises journey, it is more fitting and much better that the Creator personally communicate with her and inflame her heart with love and praise, and dispose her for the way in which she could better serve God in the future. The director of the Exercises should not turn or incline to one side or the other, but stand in the centre like a balance, and leave the Creator to act immediately with the creature, and the creature with her Creator and Lord.
        Why should a director of the Exercises stand in the centre like a balance with respect to his directee? Why does Ignatius hope that, through the instrument of the Exercises, God's Spirit will communicate immediately with her? So that, through the instrument of the Exercises, a directee can be free and loving enough to make concrete choices affecting the arrival of God's reign in society, in her own life, and in the lives of others. This is what the "praise and service of God" means and this is the intent of the Exercises journey in the cultural context of the responsible Christian today [5], [23], [102], [135], [230].

        The ability to make decisions is essential to what it means to be a human person. In the moment of judgement and decision when one says inwardly to oneself, "Yes, I make this decision and I will go with it," one experiences one's humanity and "personhood" more than at any other time. During that concrete moment of conscious decision-making, a person experiences oneself as an "I" -- the conscious, personal, free self -- in all its concreteness and mystery.

        Although the arrival at a final decision is mysteriously unique to each person, the various aspects of the process leading up to this final decision can be explained as a dynamic model(1) with a series of phases that generally fit a hypothetical person and, by application, the hypothetical directee. Since the ways in which persons go about the decision-making process are ultimately unique, the application of any model must be adapted and suited to the readiness and discerned movements within the directee. However, a spiritual guide can use such a model to discover:

        In day-to-day living, people make their decisions in different ways, such as by analytically considering specific reasons, by intuitive leaps, by talking around the material, by imagining the consequences of a possible decision, etc., or by any combination of these ways. A spiritual guide would be wise to discover and respect the normal modes by which his directee usually makes decisions(2) and be careful not to project his own personal ways of making decisions upon his directee.

Conscious Decision-Making Contends With Various Biases

Biases in our spiritual culture -- Conscious decision-making does not have good press in the spiritual culture from which many of our directees come. Most directees seem to accept the need for explicit and prayerful decision-making with regard to a major career commitment, calling, or vocational choice. However, when other matters are involved, many directees seem to resist the need for explicit decision-making; for example, to take a leave for six months to study or travel; to do something about a de-energizing relationship; to make use of therapy; to write a book; to adopt a child; to invest one's money in a particular company or not. I have often noted that, during the Exercises according to notation [19], directees make decisions continually and of all sorts but when they are asked whether they experience the need for making a decision during the prayer of the Exercises, they seem to have no material for decision-making! Is there something about the process of explicit decision-making which seems to destroy the movements of God in one's heart? Perhaps explicit decision-making about lesser matters contradicts what it means to be a prayerful person! One would think that the very challenges inherent in the Exercises text would surface the need and desire for conscious decision-making. Often they do not.

Biases in the Exercises -- The Exercises text itself has helped to create this quandary. Ignatius himself makes a distinction between the Election and other forms of decision-making which he places under the rubric of Reformation of Life to which he allots very little space. The section on the Election material [169]-[188] is about twenty-two paragraphs while the section on the Reformation of Life [189] is only four paragraphs. There are references throughout the Exercises to decision-making options other than what we might consider as specifically belonging to a major life-choice; for example, the accepting or relinquishing a benefice [16] and the Guidelines for Distributing Alms [337]. These examples point to Ignatius' position that we can use the Exercises for decisions which do not involve a change of one's state of life or a major career change. But the examples are few, and these are linked to the implementation issues around a major life-choice. Accepting a benefice was intimately connected with a career change; it was a difficult problem among the clergy in the culture of Ignatius' day.

        Perhaps it is unfortunate that all the major exercises, along with their Graces, are written from the perspective of a choice(3) involving a permanent lifestyle commitment; that is, a calling or vocation. Yet, there are many reasons for Ignatius' stress on a permanent calling or special state of life:

Biases in unique persons -- There are two basic exaggerations in the way with which people make their decisions. Some people put closure on the decision-making process too quickly; others keep avoiding to place closure on the decision-making. The first group is made up of "closure artists" who appear to enjoy the making of decisions. They make decisions quickly. They easily come to closure on what-should-I-do or what-needs-to-be-done questions. However, they are inordinately eager to cut off the considerations of some variables. After all, too many variables would make their decision-making more difficult and their lives too ambiguous! The second group is made up of "avoiders" who appear to avoid conscious decision-making until the circumstances force them to act. They often fear the burden of responsibility for mistakes because they do not want to face the fact that, as humans, we are never cognizant of all the variables.

        People who are affected by these exaggerations need to appreciate several truths in human decision-making:

1. Our decisions always rest on partial understanding. Only God is in touch with the whole of God's self and all the possibilities of any situation. As humans, our knowledge is never complete because we live our lives through units of time.

2. Decision-making is always limited by time and space. Mistaken decisions are inevitable. It is better to take a risk of being mistaken than it is to give up our right to decide.

3. God adapts God's saving and redeeming work to the vagaries of human choices.

4. Not to make a decision is a decision.

5. We live our lives between two unknowns, the unknown of self and the unknown of God. Yet we are invited to make responsible choices, all the variables behind which we can never know.

Decision-Making And Directees In The Healing Mode

        The Exercises were not written for directees in the Healing Mode. The only healing passages suggested in the Exercises are those which describe physical healing as part of Jesus' public ministry.

        The Exercises of notations [19] and [20] were not foreseen as being used with the Healing-Mode perspective. Nevertheless for a directee in the Healing Mode, there is always the implicit call to participate as fully as possible in life.(4) For example, take the fearful person who always needs to predetermine scenarios in order to act appropriately. If she has done sufficient inner work before and during the Exercises journey, and if she appreciates how her fear has been blocking the coming of God's reign by causing unhappiness for herself and others, she may be called to make explicit concrete choices involving strategies that will help her practice alternate scenarios -- volunteering in a home for handicapped people, joining a local theatrical group, etc. The challenge in making conscious decisions to deal with the external world can foster deeper healing.

Phases Within The Decision-Making Process

        Although the definitive moment in which all the aspects of a decision fall into place for a person is quite mysterious, the developmental phases that lead to it are not. From the moment when the need for a decision is conceived, through the moments of labour when this need is clarified and its aspects begin to coalesce, until the moment the decision is born, its phases are fairly predictable. Let me describe the overall developmental process in terms of the following three interlocking circles which represent the three major phases of the decision-making process.

        Each circle in the diagram above represents a basic phase within the decision-making process. The vertical arrows on the left indicate that the processes within the first circle can come about interchangeably and in different sequences. The reason why the circles interlock is that each phase is dynamically interwoven with the next phase. As one enters into the first phase of the process, one is already dealing with the next phase, and as one is moving into the second phase, the third begins to be present. And so decision-making is like a seedling which grows, develops, and flowers. It is dynamic and every part contains the whole. Its phases can be present in one moment or over several moments.(5)

        A more practical way to describe the decision-making process is by using a set of procedures, made up of individual steps which are likely to foster the phases represented by the three interlocking circles.


Five Steps Of The Decision-Making Process

Consult the diagram by clicking here. I opens up in a separate window. The steps give you a formula that you could use to help your directee move through this process. They will also give your directee a practical way of using the principles of the Exercises in her day-to-day choices after the Exercises journey is over. 

The phases on the right hand side show how these steps coincide with the three-circles diagram to recall the dynamic quality underlying these steps. 

The comments on the left hand side indicate how the movements of spirits -- Consolation With Cause, Consolation Without Cause, Temptations Under the Guise of Light (or Good), Desolation, Water on a Stone, Water on a Sponge, etc. -- happen anywhere along the process. Consequently, discernment is required through the process.

Step 1 "Walking Around" The Question

        Often the need for making a decision is expressed in a general statement or question. The purpose of this first step is to recognize the precise question or problem or issue calling one to make a decision.

         A spiritual director can make this step with his directee during the spiritual direction sessions at any appropriate time during the Exercises journey. Most of the work of this step should have been done before the exercise on the Two Standards. During the Second Week, the directee can continue this on her own between prayer exercises or in the place of some Repetitions.

        Generally on the Exercises journey before the Two Standards is reached, elements of the general problem will have surfaced and spiritual guide and directee will have discussed them. This "walking around" is a very natural activity. When one tries to explain how this is done, it becomes complicated! Therefore, I will indicate some aspects that a spiritual guide might investigate to help his directee clarify and understand the problem.

        As you get a sense of the general problem from different angles, separate the presenting issue from the real issue that needs to be addressed. Separate key issues from lesser issues. Sometimes in this attempt to understand, through dialogue and prayer in combination with each other, the issues change. A lesser issue may emerge as the key one. Often, even before beginning the Exercises, some directees may seem to have only one key issue. Whether there seems to be one issue or many, there is always a need to clarify and to analyze in order to understand.

Step 2 Check The Assumptions And/Or Determine The Criteria

        Behind the determining of the key question (or issue) from lesser questions, there are often assumptions -- beliefs which we take for granted. These assumptions are, in fact, implicit criteria which determine whether we look at these particular data rather than some other data. Take the example of a directee who desires to consider the offer of work in Arizona. As she walks around the question and articulates her thoughts and feelings about it, you note her preference for hot weather. But as you continue the conversation, you discover that her arthritic condition is so bad that this consideration is essential because she is not able to function at all when the arthritis is activated. When the preference for the hot climate first appears it may not be obvious whether this is simply a preference, an Inordinate Attachment, or the expression of an essential aspect required in the final decision. But as the conversation progresses, her preference for a hot and dry climate surfaces as an important criterion that must be considered if she is going to make a responsible decision.(6)

        Throughout this and all the other steps, criteria need to be made explicit. Criteria help determine what to accept or what not to accept from the brainstorming. Criteria help determine the priority of the possible solutions below. Criteria help determine both the reasons one puts down and the relative weight one gives to each one.

Some material for your study, reflection, discussion .....

     In the P & F, the only criteria seem to be the praise and service of God. Does this mean that a directee with an arthritic condition should not "factor in" this condition as one of her criteria for her decision-making? In the last part of the P & F are we not called to be free from our attachment to sickness or health, long life or short life? Does the P & F not read that "our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are called"? The answer to this dilemma is contained in the following issues:         In what ways would you agree or disagree with the following assertion: If a decision is to be fully human and realistic, one cannot avoid having criteria whether they are implicit or explicit?
Step 3 Focusing
        Focusing includes all those activities that help to delineate the viable solutions or options. This can include all or some of the following:
a. Brainstorm the various possible solutions.
b. Prioritize these possibilities.
c. State the solution clearly as a positive statement followed by its contrary: For example:
I will accept the move to Montreal; I will not accept the move to Montreal.
If there are several key issues, this kind of double statement is done for each solution in order of priority.

d. Set up the Four Columns for each double statement as below:

I will accept the move to Montreal
I will not accept the move to Montreal
to me/us
to me/us
to me/us




    (The Four Columns are not the key method of decision-making in the Exercises. Rather the key method for decision-making is the method of notation [176] based on the discernment of spirits. The Four Columns belong to the Supplementary Decision-Making Techniques outlined below. I take these Four Columns out of the original context and suggest them here as a helpful way of focusing.)

Step 4 Pray And Wait For The Choice To Emerge Or To Be Given

        Composing herself with the data, the directee returns to Gospel Contemplation asking the Spirit to help surface the Unconfirmed Decision. By this time, the directee has, as it were, all the data in her heart, so now you suggest to her:

"Don't try to figure out any more. Don't manipulate your prayer. Simply go to prayer ... and in a kind of generalized way, be with all the data.... Use your imagination again on the gospel events. Look at Jesus and be with him ... and through your interaction with Jesus, some choice will emerge! ... We've talked about it enough. The Four Columns have surfaced enough reasons.... You know the criteria which you need to honour at this time in your life...."
        Often spending a week(8) in this way could surface the preliminary choice or, more technically, the Unconfirmed Decision. The directee might then go on with Step 5.

        Waiting for the choice to emerge is sometimes not as simple as above. Here is one example:

The directee arrives favouring one of the possible solutions and is in Consolation. However, you sense something is amiss. After hearing the flow of the experiences of her prayer and daily living, you note that some anxiety has been present between the times of prayer. Then you discover some of its causes -- one of her children got hurt. Though there is a certain peace below the stress, the anxiety strikes you as being disproportionate to the cause. Even though she is in Consolation, you wonder whether her possible solution has been correctly discerned. At this point you might think of several different approaches. You could ask her to try out a different solution with one or other of the supplementary decision-making techniques (such as the Imagining-Self-at-Moment-of-Death approach or the Offering-of-Dishes approach) described below. Your discernment, along with your creativity, may suggest any one of several other possibilities. But you settle on one approach: you ask her to remain for one more week of prayer with the possible solution she presented in the first place. There is no magic. Be respectful and careful, and then trust that God, with the directee, will do the rest. As always, we do what we can in the hope and trust that God will give what we are seeking.
        If discernment, by way of evaluating a directee's Consolations and Desolations, does not help to surface the choice or Unconfirmed Decision, use some other methods such as those described in notations [177]-[188] and in the section below,"Supplementary Decision-Making Techniques." These are intended be used only if the process of discerning spirits has not been effective enough. The purpose of using these techniques is to facilitate a movement of spirits when this movement was either not happening or unclear from which the Unconfirmed Decision will emerge. When ready move to Step 5.
        In the diagram above, the arrow is like a river. It represents the flow of the directee's experiences during the decision-making/discernment process. It also illustrates the Five Steps and their relationship to this flow. The First Step is pictured as taking place before(9) the Two Standards exercise. Notice how Gospel Contemplation is the instrument for this experience to emerge. The normal flow of experience is along the northern channel of the two islands. If the ship cannot sail in this channel -- that is, if the spiritual movements give no clarity -- it can sail through the southern channel with the use of the supplementary techniques. But the hope is that the ship will still be able to sail through the two islands and into the northern channel before the final step of praying for Confirmation(10) is begun.

Step 5 Seek And Pray For Confirmation

        After making the I-am-quite-sure-this-is-what-I-ought-to-do choice, the directee offers it to God and asks for Confirmation. (If Confirmation is not received, she repeats part of the decision-making process.)

        Theoretically, once a directee has arrived at a choice, or once it has emerged, she is ready for the Third and, then, the Fourth Week of the Exercises. With the I-am-quite-sure-this-is-what-I-ought-to-do choice in her heart, she enters the Gospel Contemplations on the passion and death of Jesus. As she does this, she asks God for Confirmation. Thus, the dying and rising experiences of Jesus become a tuning fork to discover whether there is a harmony between these events and the choice she is just about to finalize.

        Unless the choice was given in a Consolation Without Cause, the directee has still not received confirmation in the sense that the process has not yet come to closure. Confirmation is not so much the seal of approval that what was decided will turn out with success. Rather it is the sense of closure and Consolation that one has made as good a decision as one can at this time. God confirms the directee, not the decision.

        In addition to this subjective and experiential Confirmation, a married directee may need to seek the objective Confirmation from her spouse; and a directee living as part of a community, from the community.

        At times, it may be less appropriate to give your directee scriptural themes drawn from the Third or Fourth Week. You adapt the map to the landscape and not vice versa. Here are some examples:

Incorporating The Five Steps Into The Flow Of The Exercises

        The Five Steps just outlined are a helpful way to incorporate the elements of the decision-making process during the Exercise journey. They can be used as a checklist to ascertain what to do next with a directee. However, no matter what the context -- notation-[19] Exercises journey; closed directed retreat setting for 30 days; outside the Spiritual Exercises; a shorter directed retreat; etc. -- the Five Steps have to be adapted to the directee's unique experience and needs. For example:

        There are as many applications and variations of these Five Steps as there are individual directees. However, by way of an example, and on the hypothesis that your directee is sufficiently free, has only one decision, and is moving through all these steps in an orderly fashion, the Five Steps would fit into the proposed prayer units in the following way (note that the process is not mechanical -- there is a real fluidity to it):

During The Interview Session Following Prayer Unit 18

        In dialogue with your directee, you discover the general question around which a choice needs to be made; namely, "I feel called to use my skill in teaching in some special way." Together you walk around this issue or general question. Through this discussion, you discover how the general question harmonizes with the various graces already received and with living the Standard of Jesus as a way of acting against her fear of failure which came up earlier in the Exercises {Step 1}. So, adapting Prayer Unit 19, you suggest that your directee spend one or two prayer periods generating, with God, the possible ways of using this skill {Step 3 a}. You also suggest that she discuss the possibilities with a friend and that she gather the required information on such-and-such {Step 1 and Step 3 a}.

During The Interview Session Following Prayer Unit 19

        During Prayer Unit 19, your directee has spent three periods clarifying the question in the way that you suggested and has come up with two real possibilities. She has discovered that the six other theoretical possibilities she envisaged were not feasible at all. As you listen to her account, you sense the rightness of this assessment. You remind her of her myth that she developed earlier, and you note with her how both these possibilities are in harmony with her personal myth. So you help her re-establish the fact that whatever decision she will make needs to be in harmony with her myth. This is one criterion that needs to be in place {Step 2}.

        Then as you listen to your directee's account of the Gospel Contemplations, she tells you how she feels extremely enthusiastic for one of the two possibilities; namely, moving to Brazil for a period of two years. Her spouse also was happy about that possibility. Discussing the nature of that experience in prayer with her, you discover that she is too enthusiastic and somewhat taken up with the kudos that would come her way and that, at the time of this experience in prayer, she was really not that close to Jesus.

        Sensing that this may not be Consolation, you draw her attention to the Third Kind of Humility and the Triple Colloquy which instructs her to pray to make choices that might bring about experiences like that of Jesus -- even rejection. You might at this point even caution her against jumping to conclusions [14], or if you sense that it fits, you might explain notation [332] about the Bad Angel masquerading as light. Then you return to the two possibilities and show her how to:

a) Write each of them down in a double statement: expressing each as a
    positive statement and then as its contrary {Step 3 d};

b) Work through the Four Columns {Step 3 e} for each double statement.

        After that, you instruct her to take two or three of the prayer periods to work prayerfully through the Four Columns. You adapt Prayer Unit 20 like this: a) same; b) same; c) same; but d), e) and f) would be spent working with the Four Columns {Step 3 e}.

During The Interview Session Following Prayer Unit 20

        The first three days of Prayer Unit 20 were spent on the Three Kinds of Humility and on Gospel Contemplations; the latter three days were spent on the Four Columns. The directee seems to be in Consolation. She has been asking for the courage to pray for the Third Kind of Humility and has "the desire for the desire" for the Third Kind. In the Gospel Contemplations, she is in relationship with Jesus and is learning that she has been too self-righteous on the social issues and has often used them as a means of making herself feel significant with others. You sense the rightness of this awareness since it harmonizes with some of her discoveries during the First Week.

        As a result of her work on the Four Columns {Step 3 e}, you discover that she was biased against the second of the two possibilities and so you recommend that she pray to be as open with that particular possible solution as she is with the first possibility [16].

        At this point, you give her Prayer Unit 21 and explain how to incorporate Step 4 into the Gospel Contemplations:

"Enter into the event of Jesus' feeding of the five thousand with all the data in your heart ... not figuring out or working through.... Simply ask God's Spirit to enlighten you as to which of the possibilities you are being called to follow. {Step 4} In your Colloquies, talk with Jesus about how your personal myth will be fulfilled in both possibilities." {Step 2}
During The Interview Session Following Prayer Unit 21

        The directee comes to you with a big smile and tells you that she has made her decision. You wonder in your heart whether this is going to be the Unconfirmed Decision. The directee explains how it all came together in the Gospel Contemplation on the Transfiguration. At first, she sensed that she wanted to go to Brazil for her own status. She realized how afraid she was. She had been wanting to get rid of her fear by going down to Brazil. She now says:

"I realized in the Transfiguration that I wanted to do the right thing ... but for the wrong reason. Brazil is going to be very hard but in my prayer I experienced that the loneliness and newness of the experience was something that I desired to go through because Jesus went through it."
        Her account of the rest of the week seems to harmonize with this. However, you still sense that something is awry [335]. So you suggest:
"As a check on this, take Prayer Unit 22 and pray for two days taking the position that you have definitely decided that you are going to Brazil. Then for two days, take the position that you have definitely decided that you are not going to Brazil.... Then, in the light of these "prayer experiments," make the appropriate decision and carry it in your heart as you do the rest of the prayer unit."
[The directee now prays through Prayer Unit 22 with one of the Supplementary Decision-Making Techniques suggested below -- the Trying-It-on-for-Size Method. This is still Step 4.]

During The Interview Session Following Prayer Unit 22

        As the directee is telling you about her prayer experiences, you sense that the decision which she brought forward during your last interview was, indeed, an Unconfirmed Decision. Every time she prayed with the stance of going to Brazil, she discovered herself being with Jesus and praying to be rejected with him and asking for a greater ability to bring her fear of failure to Jesus. In other words, she perceived the going to Brazil in the context of the Triple Colloquy and the Third Kind of Humility.

        On the other hand she noticed that when she prayed with the stance of not going to Brazil, she experienced a kind of disloyalty and sadness in her being; there was a kind of lesson-finding tone to these Gospel Contemplations. You sense that the free-flow between herself and God was not the same as when she had taken the stance of going to Brazil.

Therefore you now begin the Third Week of the Exercises journey and you instruct your directee: "Pray for Confirmation throughout the next few weeks. Ask God to confirm your choice and show you how this choice is in keeping with God's desires for you ... which have been manifested to you through the Exercises journey..." {Step 5}.

[The directee now prays over Prayer Unit 23, continually asking God to confirm her Unconfirmed Decision. This is Step 5.]

        What I have attempted to illustrate is how you can use the various decision-making steps throughout the notation-[19] Exercises journey corresponding to Prayer Units 18 through 22. Depending on the nature of the decision and the experience of your directee, you may need more time than this for the discernment process. On the other hand, less time may be sufficient.

        As you use these Five Steps, there will be times when you will know that a certain step is not needed because a directee has already received what was intended by that step. So leave the step out and move ahead. At other times when you are not sure whether you should leave out one of the steps, don't leave it out!

        It would be wonderful if all directees were in touch with their Blessed History whenever they discern a significant decision. In the best of all worlds, awareness of the directee's Blessed History would have become more articulated in a spiritual guide's earlier dealings with his directee. For many reasons, an explicit awareness of the directee's Blessed History for both directee and guide is often not clearly accessible in the discerning situation. However, when your directee has been gifted with a more explicit awareness of her Blessed History, both of you can call upon aspects of this awareness as touchstones -- the sponge on which the drop of water falls -- for Steps 4 and 5. A directee's Blessed History is always a good backdrop against which to test the emerging Unconfirmed Decision and the final Confirmation. God is faithful to the way God calls and has a unique way of encountering one as a unique individual just as God had a unique way of encountering the people of Israel. With them, the covenantal love pattern was often repeated throughout their history.

        Though an explicit pattern in a directee's Blessed History may not be available as a clear touchstone in the discerning process, the graces and patterns by which God has been communicating during the Exercises journey are usually more accessible. Obviously, this pattern of graces becomes the immediate backdrop for discernment as the directee enters the final phases of the decision-making process.

Supplementary Decision-Making Techniques

        As stated above, if discernment by way of evaluating a directee's Consolations and Desolations does not work, stay with Step 4 and try to facilitate this step by using some other methods such as those given in notations [177]-[188] which Ignatius calls the Third Time [177]; that is, a time of tranquility when there is no evident movement of spirits. In other words, these techniques should be used only if the process of discerning the spirits has not been effective enough. Here is a list of supplementary decision-making techniques:

1. The Offering-of-Dishes Method
        This very effective method comes from Ignatius' manuscript called the Autograph Directory: the directee "... might well follow this procedure - she might offer to God one day to follow one path, another day another path. Then she is to observe what preference God indicates. This would be like offering various dishes to a prince to see which of them pleases him."(11)

2. The Four Columns [181]
        The Four Columns are a technique that is part of the larger method below (3). In the description of the Five Steps, I have incorporated it as a separate focusing technique.

3. The Four-Column Method [178]-[183]
        This method, which features the Four Columns [181], is a complete method offered by Ignatius when following the movement of spirits does not seem to work.

4. Imagining Self at Moment of Death [186]
        This technique is part of the larger method below (7).

5. Imagining Self at Last Judgement [187]
        This technique is part of the larger method below (7).

6. Imagining Self Giving Advice to Another [185]
        This technique is part of the larger method below (7).

7. Three-Scenarios Method [184]-[188]
        This method which features the imagination techniques of (4), (5) and (6) is another complete method offered by Ignatius when following the movement of spirits does not seem to work.

8. Trying-It-on-for-Size Method
        This is a variation of the Offering-of-Dishes Method (1) above. When you go to a store to buy an expensive winter coat, you try it on for size. You wear it a while, looking at yourself in the mirror to evaluate what it looks and feels like. You live with it for a while to discover its suitability. According to this method, the directee takes the position of having made a definite decision and carries that decision with her into her prayer and daily living.

9. Guidelines for Distributing of Alms [337]-[344]
        These guidelines contain Criteria that may be helpful with decisions involving distribution of money and other resources.

10. Guidelines for Eating [210]-[217]
        These show how to "discern by experimentation," by making changes in order to evaluate the Consolations received after each change. The guidelines here are an extension of the principle Ignatius uses throughout the Exercises which invite the directee to make changes in order to dispose herself better for the Grace she is seeking [76]. Though the guidelines concern our use of food, the principles enunciated apply to our use of anything that can be misused in an addictive way such as the use of computer, television, car, physical exercise, volunteer work, time for prayer, etc.

Combining Supplementary Techniques With The Prayer Units

        During the Exercises journey, any of the above techniques or any part of them can be incorporated into the decision-making process and prayer units as needed. Here are ways of incorporating numbers (3), (7) and (8):

-- Four-Column Method (3)
        This is one way of decision-making when the process of deciding from spiritual movements has not been fruitful (in the Third Time). It is spelled out in full in notations [178]-[183] and can be incorporated into a prayer unit as follows:
Spend three days on [178]-[182] and the last three days on Jesus' public life with Gospel Contemplation.

Please note that the final phase [183] of the Four-Column Method is the same as Step 5. In other words, Ignatius hopes that through this method a directee will hopefully (and finally!) experience the movement of spirits.
-- Three-Scenarios Method (7)
        This is a second way of decision-making when the process of deciding from spiritual movements has not been fruitful (in the Third Time). It is described fully in notations [184]-[188] and can be incorporated into a prayer unit as follows:
Period a) [184] and [185]
Period b) Repetition or [184] and [186]
Period c) Repetition or [184] and [187]
Period d) Gospel Contemplation
Period e) Gospel Contemplation
Period f) Repetition on anything from above
Please note that the final phase [188] of the Three-Scenarios Method is the same as Step 5. In other words, Ignatius hopes that through this method a directee will hopefully (and finally!) experience the movement of spirits.

-- Trying-It-On-For-Size Method (8)
        Using this in the context of notation [19], a spiritual guide could suggest to his directee to use the prayer unit as is but with the following approach:

"For three days of prayer, take the position of having made a definite decision.... Then for the next three days, take the position of having made a definite different decision...."
In other words, have the directee stay with stance A for a set time and then stay with stance B for an equal amount of time. According to this method, the directee takes the position of having made a definite decision and carries that decision with her into her prayer and daily living. The stance is in her heart, and accordingly there will be interior reactions in her prayer that flow out of this stance. Often the directee's reactions and responses will spill over into her daily experiences outside her times of prayer. The events of the day will be affected by the stance that is taken. All these experiences can then be evaluated in terms of Consolation, Counterfeit Consolation, or Desolation. This method is a fairly useful instrument for ongoing spiritual guidance outside the Exercises journey provided your directee has reached an acceptable(12)level of freedom.


1. The technical word that is used for such a dynamic model is `heuristic' which comes from a Greek word meaning "to discover."

2. It is not out of place for a prayer guide to inquire from a directee how she usually arrives at the significant decisions in her life.

3.They are written from the perspective of the Election, a word which simply means `choice' but has come to mean "a choice involving a permanent lifestyle commitment" or "being chosen for a permanent lifestyle commitment." Ignatius was writing within the context of the Roman church; when he considered permanent, lifestyle commitments, he meant a marriage calling, a religious calling such as in a monastic or `active' religious order, a priestly calling, etc.

4. This topic is dealt with in Chapter 24, "Guiding Directees In The Healing Mode During The Second Week."

5. The process of decision-making, expressed either in the three circles or in the Five Steps, is another example of a heuristic structure or dynamic model. Other examples are the Exercises themselves; any one Week within the Exercises; the Conversion Cycle described in Chapter 32, "The Conversion Cycle In Prayer Dynamics And Program Design." You might also image the process of decision-making as the flexible bellows of an accordion because the musician expands or contracts the bellows according to the need -- rhythm, volume and feel of the music.

6.   You might wonder how this relates to notation [23] where Ignatius writes that we are to be indifferent to health or sickness and all other things when we are in the process of making a decision. The praise and service of God appears to be our one and only criterion. This is repeated throughout the Exercises such as in notations [16] and [155]. In actuality, this criterion is our primary criterion, but it is not the only one. In the Exercises, another criterion which seems to be of equal importance with this primary one is that any decision should be in harmony with the teachings and/or jurisdictional laws of the Roman Catholic institutional church. It seems to me that this is the meaning of the words, "As far as we are allowed free choice and are under no prohibition..." [23]. Confer notations [169], [171], [365].
        After the Exercises were initially set down, and after Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus and was later elected major superior (chief executive officer) for the Society of Jesus, he developed criteria to focus the choice of ministries. He set these down in the Jesuit constitutions. Among the criteria according to which ministries were to be preferred are the following:

7. The Four Columns is the term I use for the technique contained in notation [181], which is one of the steps of the decision-making method [178]-[183]. This is often confused with the more popular method in which we line up "reasons for" and "reasons against" in two columns. The Four Columns differs in the following ways:
a) `Advantages to me'/`Disadvantages to me' are concrete and real whereas the "Reasons for"/"Reasons against" are disembodied and abstract.
b) In the Four Columns, a person considers the advantages and disadvantages of the contrary alternative -- the same statement expressed with a negative as in the example given. This is not done in the reasons-for and reasons-against approach.
        The advantage of this approach can be understood by using this example: Beverly wants to make a careful survey of the buildings on a particular street. She does this by walking down the street from the north and then up the street from the south. In that process, she is looking at the same buildings from different angles.

        In the Exercises, the main method for decision-making is that described in the Second Time [176] -- discernment of spirits. It is from this perspective that the text of the Exercises, according to notation [20], is written.

        I take the Four Columns [181] out of the context -- beginning with [178] and ending with [183] -- for which Ignatius intended its use. Over the past decade, John English, S.J., has advocated this use of the Four Columns as an effective method of focusing and clarification. It has also proved very helpful as a focusing instrument in setting up decision-making processes for groups.

8. Or one or two days in the closed setting of notation-[20] Exercises journey.

9. In the best of all worlds, and so, I place this First Step here because the skilled director would have dealt with this first step before the Two Standards. In the Running Commentaries, however, I placed this First Step after the time of the Two Standards because I wrote them for the beginning prayer guide who usually has too much to handle with a directee. For example, a directee may not have adequately acquired the ability to do Gospel Contemplation prior to the Two Standards Exercise and much time might be needed to encourage its development.

10. This final step is itself an example of the expectation that there will be spiritual movements.

11. For an up-to-date translation, consult Martin E. Palmer, S.J., editor and translator, On Giving the Spiritual Exercises: The Early Jesuit Manuscript Directories and the Official Directory of 1599 (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996), Document 1, "The Autograph Directory of St. Ignatius," p 9ff.

12. What would be an acceptable level of freedom? Why would a directee need this for the particular use of this method?

Permanent commitment ... [and every other serious decision for that matter!] ... is less a prediction of my future than an act of belief in my history.
I believe that the fabric woven of these blessed events will not be frayed by the uncertainties that will surely come....

-- John Staudenmeier

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