The Consciousness Examen

One Wednesday evening mass in UP
Luke 11, 1-4: On Daily Prayer

A Requested Post

A useful way of praying in the spiritual life is the examen, which St. Ignatius himself counseled was the single most important exercise for a person to do every day. In essence, it is about taking a good look at our choices in life and asking whether they have made us better persons. Over time, the examen helps us to take regular inventory of our spiritual lives. By praying the examen, we become more adept at listening to God and working with God in the ongoing project of building a good life.

There are two types:

The First Type of Examen. The first type of examen is the kind we undertake when we come to a life stage that makes us think about where we’ve been--- what the previous weeks, months, or years have been like for us. Often, this kind of examen happens with some big event, good or bad: graduation, illness, the birth of a child, a family tragedy. Big events in our lives force us to confront the way we’ve been living and the choices we’ve made; sometimes we are thankful, and other times we have regrets. When we perform this kind of examen, we are asking about how our past attitudes have affected our choices over time.

The Second Type of Examen is about looking at our consciousness of the past day. It is this practice that becomes the regular maintenance of the spiritual life: it is about paying attention to highs and lows, things we are grateful for and things we regret. In this examen, we go through our memories of the day to see what emerges. The steps below:

1. Pray for Understanding. Pray that God might help you understand how he is working with you in your everyday life. We choose to believe that God is present to us in every moment, and so we pray that in reviewing the day, we may come to know God’s activity with us.

2. Give Thanks. Recall and give thanks for the good things God has given you. Practice thankfulness for basic goods, like being alive, being with people you love, having food to eat, and so on. The practice of gratitude alone is a valuable exercise for many, particularly those who are at difficult periods in their lives. I came to understand this point recently. Many things in my life seemed wrong, and so my spiritual director instructed me to practice this exercise of gratitude. Instead of focusing on all the negative feelings, I focused on what was good.

3. Pay attention to your feelings. Pay attention to strong feelings, both positive and negative, that emerge in your recollection of the day. For Ignatius, feelings were a barometer of the spiritual life, for they tell us things about ourselves and our relationship with God. In looking over the past day, ask yourself what feelings were most strong and why. Try not to “censor” your feelings, determining in advance which are permissible and which are not. Simply ask God to help you understand where the feelings come from and what they tell you about your spiritual life.

4. Examine one of your feelings. Choose one strong feeling from the past day, then dig deeper; let it be the source of your prayer. If this feeling has emerged in your memory of the day, then it surely points to something important. What is it? Is the feeling positive or negative, and how does it move you? Do you want to be angry at God, or do you want to praise God? Whatever the feelings move you toward can be a source of prayer. Again, remember that honesty and openness are important here. Don’t try to predetermine what a prayer should be, any more than you would predetermine what a friendship is supposed to be. Simply allow the feeling to lead you in conversation with God.

5. Look ahead. Move towards looking ahead. As you wind up your prayer from the feeling of the past day, start thinking about how this will affect your choices in the future. Ask God to be with you as your prepare for what lies ahead. Again pay attention to your feelings: are you looking forward to the next day or are you afraid of it?

6. Make a Closing Prayer. Close with a standard prayer, like the Our Father, or use some words that connote your willingness to listen to God in the coming day. Again, pray for the grace to discern God’s will and the courage to do it.

Final Note. The examen does not need to be at a time set apart. It is good to do this once in a while, really taking stock of ourselves and the choices we’ve made, but it is also good to integrate elements of the examen into our everyday thinking. It’s possible to do an examen while waiting in life, eating lunch, driving, listening to music. At the most basic level, the examen is your response to the question, “What has God been doing in my life?” It is about paying my attention to my relationship with God: the ways my personality, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, choices and dilemmas tell me about God’s movements in my life. It is the chance to simply see God in our lives and to be conscious of His abiding presence in our life. He said, “I will be always with you till the end of time.”

Practical Suggestions for Prayer

Some Questions:

  1. What has been the most important thing I’ve done today (this week, this month)?
  2. How have I been an instrument of God’s love toward others?
  3. Who has shown me God’s love? In what way?
  4. Have I hurt anyone today (this week, this month)?
  5. Have I treated anyone as a means to an end rather than as a person?

Some Meditations

  1. Review your day slowly. What stands out? What are you thankful for? What do you regret? What caused you pain? Pay attention to small things, like feeling satisfaction for doing a good job or feeling sorry for missing something important. Pay attention to the memories of the way you felt about things.
  2. Ask God for the grace to know God’s will for you life and so see the ways God is working in your life.
  3. What do your actions (or failures to act) tell you about your relationship to God? Does anything stand out --- a conversation, a time you got angry, something that moved you, an unexpected event, a regret? With patience, ask yourself what you feelings at the time tell you. Did your feelings manifest a willingness to listen to God or to ignore God?
  4. What patterns do you see over the last day, week, month, or year? What do these patterns tell you about your relationship to God?
  5. Take your observations into prayer, telling everything to God and asking God for understanding. Allow God to move you --- and to surprise you if necessary.

Material taken from Tim Muldoon, The Ignatian Workout: daily spiritual exercises for a healthy faith. Jesuit Communications Foundation Inc. 2004. Presented in Powerpoint at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman.


Anonymous said...

thanks...Fr. Jboy
this homily really jolted me to really start living life...thanks a lot

Anonymous said...

i read this post over and over and over again. its down to earth and pragmatic approach makes it really more meaningful. wanted to email you personally, but there's no link. is there one i can use? thanks. - J.

Jessel Gerard said...

Thank you very much. Yes, you can email me at God bless.

Tim Muldoon said...

Peace to the friends I haven't yet met in Quezon City! And thanks, Jessel, for taking time to make use of my small contribution to Father Ignatius' mission. May we all set the world aflame!

Jessel Gerard said...

I am delighted to hear from you! Yes, I have tremendously enjoyed your book, and I have been using your book in my work with the youth whether in the University of the Philippines, or elsewhere. I am interested in your article, "Why Young Adults Need Ignatian Spirituality" (Feb 26, 2001). Do you have a soft copy? Can it be sent to me by email? Thank you very much!

ebg said...

Me and my family really enjoy attending your masses at UP(usually we go together on Sat 6pm), one of my daughters even said "favorite ko siya". I attended that mass when you presented the examen. It was a very practical way of praying and talking to God that I made some mental notes of it and tried it while I was riding the MRT or jeep...but still I wanted to have a copy that's why I asked from you. Thanks for directing me to your blog, I'd be looking forward to visiting here....