One of the things I seem to have collected over time is post-it notes. At least one pack can be found in each of my bags. My desk storage has a box dedicated to unused packs. And all over the inside of the desk wall are notes of various colors, written in different pen and marker colors. All these notes are some form of reminder of what I’m meant to do. With many hats being worn and an ADHD brain that loses track easily of tasks, the post-its that face me on the daily help keep me moving.
While we’re a month into the new year, people are still figuring out the commitments they want to make for self-improvement. A common thread I keep seeing is the desire to remain grounded in a stress-ridden, nonstop world. For those of us in school, there’s constant fluctuation with schedule, and some have been sent home for online school once again. The gap between our paycheck and the price of necessities grows wider. We’re fearful for the health and safety of loved ones. It seems we have control over nothing but ourselves, yet even our emotions are restless.
Someone who understood this well was St. Ignatius of Loyola. His life was full of turbulence, including struggling with a physical disability, being sent back and forth between various countries, and even facing inquiries from church leadership over his practices. The Church and the world were facing enormous shifts too.
It was in this busy and worrisome time that Ignatius created the Examen. The Examen is a meditation composed of five steps:
- Ask God for guidance and peace as you reflect.
- Give thanks for all the gifts in your life.
- Review your day in all its facets.
- Acknowledge and apologize for the sins you committed.
- Look towards the next day and invite God into it.
Ignatius believed God himself inspired the Examen so all could become more centered in their life, and grow closer to him. Much like the aforementioned sticky notes, the Examen places in front of us what our focus has been, and who our focus should be. It lets us enter into God’s peace; peace that comes from knowing ultimately who we are, and who God is to us. Practicing the Examen lets us realize the areas in which we are loving well, and in the ways we can strive to love others better.
It’s a beautiful practice, but it still may seem intimidating. Some people, like me, struggle with keeping on task or focusing. Others, also like me, tend to forget needed tasks, and later admonish ourselves for losing track. For that reason, here’s a few suggestions to get started:
- Before you begin, prepare your heart and mind. Ensure you’re in a quiet place. Dim the lights. Sit in an upright position. Take several deep breaths. As you feel the breath pass through your body, thank God for it. Close your eyes, if it helps, or use an image of God to meditate.
- Practice the Examen at the same time of day, every day. It’s said that it takes 30 days to begin forming a habit. Time associations help improve this practice. If you decide to complete the Examen at lunch time, after work, in the car, before going to bed – stick to it! And with that said…
- Give yourself plenty of reminders, especially as you begin turning the Examen into a daily practice. Planner-keepers, here’s your cue. Or sticky-note hoarders, if you’re me. If setting an alarm on your phone works for you, do that.
- Keep a small journal specifically for the Examen. If writing helps you meditate, this is especially helpful. The journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy. (As I type this, I realize mine will probably be a basic college-ruled notebook). It should, however, be empty, and totally set apart for this purpose. Write out your responses to each step.
- Or speak the Examen out loud. Listening to yourself speak helps with focus, especially if you’re more of an auditory learner. As you continue through the meditation, pay attention to how it turns into a conversation between yourself and God. Let this guide how you reflect on your day.
Let’s commit together (yes, you, and I) to practice the Examen daily. Here’s to a year grounded in the awareness of God and his presence in our lives!
Cover Image: “St. Ignatius of Loyola” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640.