Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project.
I am sat on the edge of my bed. I am wearing a combination of red teddy bear print pyjama bottoms and a yellow star trek t shirt. I have my eyes closed, and am trying not to fidget. Next to me, my laptop is sat open, and the mixed accent of an Irish-American priest is speaking in soft tones about mediation. I am attempting to conduct an Examen, an ancient meditative practice developed in Christianity. It is having mixed results.
The Examen was developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century as a formalisation of the Examination of Conscience. It contains five points that are intended to centre the meditators mind of their actions, how they have encountered and fallen short of God, and how they can look forward to encountering God in their upcoming day/week. Its five steps are as follows:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
I was recommended it as a Lenten practice by Joey Knock (another contributor for this blog series). I often struggle with meditative practices, especially formalised ones. I don’t particularly like sitting still without some form of structure to centre my thoughts. As such, the Examen appealed to me with its combination of short length (always a plus!) and tight structure. With the additional promise of finding audio guides to walk through the meditation, I decided to give it a try.
The second stage of the Examen was where it started to make sense to me. In its description, this section is described as ‘reviewing your day with gratitude.’ In practice, the priest that was guiding me through the meditation asked me to ‘review my day through the eyes of God.’ I was reminded in this of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where Jesus tells his disciples that ‘what you did to the least of us you did to me.’ Instead of the usual guilt that is attached to this passage, I was able to reflect on my day, and see the moments I had acted out of love, kindness, and compassion, and also the moments where I had fallen short of these standards. I was moved by how gentle the meditation was, not demanding contrition or repellence, but instead allowing me to simply observe myself.
Each step of the Examen is a step further into oneself, with the intention of finally looking outward to consider how it may be applied to the upcoming day. The attention paid to emotions during the meditation is a good way of reviewing not simply how I felt about my actions in the moment, but also how I feel about them now. Did pride give way to guilt at a boastful comment, or did joy come from humility at an act of service?
I will be taking on the Examen into my regular practices going forward, and would highly recommend it. If you are interested in trying the Examen for yourself, I would recommend the following links to audio walkthroughs.