Desires of the heart are central to Ignatian discernment, but connected to desire is motivation. I have written previously about digging beneath your desires to discover ever more basic desires. When we do this digging, we discover that our underlying core desires are either for God or for the ego. You could call these core desires our core motivations. In other words, any desire we have is motivated either by a love for God or a love for my ego. These are often manifested subtly in things like fears and values we hold. So my desire to follow a certain vocational path might be motivated not so much by a genuine desire or call but by a fear of being unloved by my parents or even God. On the other hand, a choice to get involved in a social justice work might be motivated by a desire to work for truth, something I may deeply value. Or is it motivated by boredom or so I can be valued by others?

Do you see how important the question of motivation is to any desire we have? In some ways, Ignatian spirituality is dualistic in the sense that Ignatius sees two sources of influence over us: the good spirit and the evil spirit. Of course, discerning which spirit is influencing us is not so easy.

In the first two insights in his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, Ignatius indicates that the way the spirits work on us will depend on whether we are maturing or receding in our spiritual life. Are we moving toward God or away from God? Now I would gather that most people reading this are in general moving toward God. However we can find that even throughout our day we sense an ebb and flow in that movement. Sometimes we make choices that draw us away from God and toward our ego. At other times it’s blindness that takes hold of us and so we’re just unaware or making choices unconsciously.

Tools for Digging
One tool to help us uncover our desires and their underlying motivations is the Examen prayer. It helps you dig, even focusing you on one event, one thing that bothers you, one struggle, and the desires or possible actions that arise from it. What is operating below the surface? This is the work of good self-examination. I always say, if we don’t know our selves we cannot know God. When we discover a motivation is fear or guilt, we need to ask ourselves, is that fear and guilt coming from the good spirit or the evil spirit? Do I believe this is how God operates? Our image of God can have a great impact on our motivations. Do we sense God is drawing us toward a choice or desire, or do we feel driven to it, forced by obligation or guilt?

Another tool is the Enneagram. The nine types of the Enneagram each have their own fears, desires, and values. If you know your dominant type it may be helpful to ask how the various ideals, hopes, and fears of your type is at play. But since we encompass all nine types to varying degrees it may be even more helpful to see how any of them are influencing your motivation. See if any of the words on this chart are part of your own motivations to do something or react in some way. And does it have its source in God or not?

Type Ideal Fear Desire Vice
One – Reformer Perfection Being bad Integrity Anger
Two – Helper Freedom Being unlovable Love Pride
Three – Achiever Hope Worthlessness Being valued Vanity
Four – Individualist Originality Having no meaning Authenticity Envy
Five – Observer Omniscience Uselessness Competency Avarice
Six – Loyalist Faith Lack of support Security Fear
Seven – Enthusiast Work Deprived/In pain Contentedness Gluttony
Eight – Challenger Truth Loss of control Autonomy Lust
Nine – Peacemaker Love Loss Stability Sloth


The Purpose for Everything
The motivation for anything ought to be for the love of God and neighbour. When we discover the motivation is for something else, then we’re uncovering something of the false self. We’re discovering not something about who we are, but who we aren’t. Our true self is not the same as our personality or our vocation. Our true self is simply one who is loved by God. All the other gifts and talents we have are simply there to live out of that true self. As Ignatius says in his Principle and Foundation, “[All] things on the face of the earth are created for [us] and that they may help [us] in prosecuting the end for which [we are] created.”

The question about motivation can come in handy when we find ourselves in a place of “shoulds” – I should do this or that… Why? What is the motivation for that “should”?

Instead of starting with the “should”, we can take the reverse approach. Ignatius invites us to reflect on the three questions, What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ? Rather than digging below a “should” to discover the motivation, start with the motivation of God and let that inform the action you take. This is truly being a contemplative in action.

Remember, desires have their source either in God or the ego. By digging below the desires and discovering the underlying motivations we can discover the true source and then more intentionally make a choice. This can happen in the moment in small choices, like the way I respond to someone or how I spend my time. This work of intentional digging into our interior serves an awakening, becoming more conscious, so we can allow God to have a greater influence in our life.

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