Plateau de Corazon

'Plateaus of the heart' and how they compare to physical plateaus...


Let’s take three separate tracks and then have them all crash and see what happens out of their convergence…

Track 1: Levels of the Heart

Track 2: Cardinal Virtues

Track 3:  Hope vs Despair



Track 1: Levels of the Heart

For starters, there is the left aorta valve… just kidding!


There are three levels to the heart. 

The first level is the surface level; nothing too deep occurs here. It's a response to outside stimulus, like how a delicious burrito pleases your taste-buds.

The second level is a little deeper. This level is where the day-to-day undercurrents reside. Your responses here are rooted in something deeper than just the object acting on you.

The third level is the deepest. It is the core of who you are and where the spirits move—where your spirit, the Holy Spirit, and evil spirits interact. Most simply and fundamentally, this is where your relationship with God is.


It is on the second and, even more profoundly, the third levels where we experience desolation and consolation.


These times of desolation are like plateaus in the spiritual life. Anyone who has experienced these moments, both in physical progress and in the spiritual life, knows it can be devastating and disheartening. I've had my fair share of these times, with some lasting as long as months.


"These times of desolation are like plateaus in the spiritual life."



Track 2: Cardinal Virtues

Anyone who has at least dabbled in fitness or prayer knows that what is needed most is discipline.

Oddly enough, we don’t see discipline listed as one of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, fortitude (courage), temperance, and justice.

Discipline is complex in that it stems from both fortitude and temperance. You need the strength and endurance that characterize fortitude, while simultaneously maintaining the restraint and self-control of temperance.

It is through this blend of fortitude and temperance that we can actually develop the discipline required to dive into and grow, not only in our physical life and fitness, but more importantly, in our spiritual life and our relationship with God.


"You need the strength and endurance that characterize fortitude, while simultaneously maintaining the restraint and self-control of temperance."



Track 3: Hope vs Despair

One of the biggest challenges experienced during desolation, or these plateaus mentioned earlier, is that we can’t seem to overcome despair and discouragement.

Ultimately, the only way to get out of either situation is to hope and persevere.

In a certain sense, what you end up praying for in both situations (despair and discouragement) is the same virtue: hope.

The theological virtue of hope is the direct counter to despair. There are two important things to note about hope:

1.       Like all virtue, it arises out of the will, not the passions.

2.       Hope cannot be earned, unlike the cardinal virtues; rather, it is a total gift from God, which makes hope one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love).

You cannot generate your own hope. Therefore, you must pray for and find your hope in Him.


"Ultimately, the only way to get out of either situation is to hope and persevere."



Now, the convergence:

Let's allow these three tracks to collide and we'll attempt to answer these questions:


1.       How do we deal with plateaus?

2.       How do we break through the wall?

3.       How do we get over that hump?

4.       Most importantly, how do we reconnect with God?

5.       Can we approach our spiritual desolation just like we approach our physical plateaus?


First and foremost, overcoming both times of desolation and plateaus will require spending time in prayer asking for hope and encouragement. There needs to be an active attack against the despair that will be trying so desperately to take hold of you. This attack must include three strategies:



Ignatius, in his discussions on discernment of spirits, states that while we are in desolation, the correct approach is to remain steadfast in our practices. We are to not make any life-changing decisions, but rather intensify what it is that we are already doing.

This approach applies beautifully to both the spiritual and physical. We need to intensify our prayer and increase our participation in the Sacraments. Likewise, we need to intensify our workouts: add an extra set, go another mile, or add on more weight.



Spiritual desolation is beyond frustrating. It's discouraging and exhausting and will leave you feeling lost. But, remember that God has also blessed you with times of consolation. There have been times in which you were certain of His call, you were solid in your mission, and you were driven, like St. Paul in his mission to the Romans. It is these instances of surety that we must look back on and trust in.

Over a year ago, my employer asked me to move to Texas. Despite my resistance, God spoke to me in the clearest moment of my life with a simple “Go”. So I went. But less than 2 months into living in a new state, all I felt was discouragement; I wondered “‘Why am I here and what am I doing?” Talking with a dear friend about that discouragement, I was reminded to look back to that “Go” and to trust that God wass working on something beautiful for me. I needed  to learn to cling to Him more and more.

Remember that you have already experienced hope; and that hope is real.


"Remember that you have already experienced hope; and that hope is real."



Back to discipline. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and grind. It is important to note that the grind you need for the gym is different than the grind for the chapel.

The same discipline can apply to get your butt off the couch and either to the gym or chapel, but the mindset is differnet for each place. The gym requires you hammer down and crank it out. But the chapel requires you to surrender totally to His plan while He asks for your focus and effort.

Paul McDonaldComment