As part of a Sacred Journey class I am taking at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, I am doing a daily Examen practice modeled after the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are many versions floating around. Here is the one I use from my class:
1. Presence – Begin by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you and His desire to be with you.
2. Gratitude – Looking back over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful? What makes you feel thankful?
3. Review – When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life? When were you resisting? What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
4. Response – Beginning today, how do you want to life your life differently? What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
Another version that I like is found at ignatianspirituality.com and here are their steps:
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 am by no means an expert at this, nor have I plumbed the depths of the possibilities of this practice, but it has been very fruitful for me, and not in the ways I expected. I believe I was anticipating that I would become more clear about behavioral changes I needed to make, that I would be able to hear the voice of God more clearly, and that I would feel more spiritual.
The practice has taken a very different route with me. Over the past three months, my Examen has gone from primarily noting patterns of dysfunction or distress to also noticing habits and patterns that benefit me and speak of health and wellbeing. For instance, on a typical day, I would have written: “noticing that I feel out of place, I interrupt people when they are talking, criticize, am prideful.” Then, I started noting: “working diligently, cleaning up after myself at work, moving slowly, taking care of myself even when stressed.”
Now, I am more balanced in observing myself in this intimate way; the idea that a deep, loving look at myself implies criticism is changing. I am more interested in what I will find than in judging what I find.
As I reflect on the past three months, the most profound shift that has occurred in me is a blossoming of a deep self-love and appreciation mostly attributable to my Examen practice. I feel like I have been waiting so long to just acknowledge myself in a more graceful and all-encompassing way and to treat myself with the interest, love, respect, and gentleness that I would give to another being that I love. I am honoring the unique and beautiful journey that I am taking and listening deeply to the longings in my heart. I have come to see that this attention and care is not selfish, but a liberated, humble love that is about grace and a true estimation of myself. It is a love that is not God-denying, but God-including as I marvel in the wonder of Life and Beingness in which I am carried and exist, as I forage in the wilderness of God’s great Being for the food, shelter, water, rest, and beauty that I need.
So, this has been a surprising experience where I anticipated a sense of meeting God in some spiritually profound way, and what it has turned into so far has been a meeting of myself on the path to God, a more gentle welcoming of my whole self on the journey; I know that this is an experience of God of a different sort, one I have perhaps waited my whole life to find.