What is the Daily Examen of Consciousness?
By Dr. Kathy Coffey-Guenther
Have you ever come to the end of the day and wondered where the time went? Or have you ever come to the end of the day, and felt burdened by regret over the way you handled a situation or treated someone? Have you ever received good news, or felt relieved by something in your day, and yet rarely had time to celebrate and live from the joy and freedom such news inspired? If you are like me, there is often such a flurry of activity, responsibility and busyness in the day, that the act of daily living can become a blur defined by events rather than the daily experience of living life richly.
St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, knew this about human beings. He knew that we can become distracted by and attached to many things in life. He also knew that, while some distractions can be life-giving, most tend to lead away from the best sense of self and God, and can actually interfere with deepening a relationship with God. Ignatius had the wisdom and insight to see that God, as creator of all, exists in all and that in the very human midst of distracted living, a person may miss the love, power, teaching and substance of God during the day.
To help men and women become more present and disciplined to the experience of God in everyday living, and to encourage them to live more consciously in the presence of God in daily life, Ignatius left as a legacy what he called “the most important prayer” that a person could do, the daily Examination of Consciousness or the daily Examen. In the Examen, a person is given an opportunity to spend a few moments reviewing the day, paying special attention to the moments when one most felt God’s presence, and, conversely, becoming aware of the times when one felt separated from God. The Examen further invites the practice of living in gratitude as one remembers those people, situations and events during the day for which one is most grateful, and also to ask special blessing and prayer for the hopes and concerns in one’s hearts. Lastly, the Examen reminds a person that each day one may ask forgiveness for any and all transgressions by not following the best path that God offers in words, thoughts or deeds. By recognizing the need for forgiveness and God’s desire to forgive through this daily examination of consciousness, the power and freedom of living in ongoing redemption becomes possible. One’s spiritual path becomes a dynamic experience of conscious living based on a relationship with God.
While there are many wonderful contemporary articles and writings suggesting various methods for proceeding with the Examen, one of the most effective is the method inclusive of a simple 5 steps, and keeping the discipline of time and place for the Examen structured every day. Some people like to do the daily Examen at night when one first climbs in bed. Others at a time of the day when it can become a regular pause. It helps to take a few deep breaths and then begin to review the day from the morning to the evening. First, a person can bring to mind all of the events, people, relationships and circumstances of this day for which one is most grateful, and then praise God for God’s generous goodness. Then it is good to spend a few moments remembering different periods of grace or circumstance when one was aware of God’s consoling presence in the day, whether through an insight gained or creative problem-solving achieved or the presence of a cherished friend or needed conversation. From this place one can next review the day with an eye towards places of felt separation from God, places of desolation in one’s spirit. These remembrances often consist of times and circumstances during the day in which there was anxiety or a need to be in control. Additionally, times of desolation may include circumstances within the day in which one is led from ego needs and drives rather than praying for and allowing the power and surprise of the Holy Spirit to guide one’s thoughts and actions. This is an invitation to take this knowledge to God in prayer and ask forgiveness for those ways one separated self from God, and those ways in which one did not act, speak or think in a manner that is consistent with one’s Christian call or in a manner that is indicative of one’s own personal values. Lastly, one can ask God to bless all those concerns, people and desires of one’s heart and then ask God’s help to be the person that God calls one to be in the day to come.
The daily Examen provides a prayer structure that enables a person to remember that one’s relationship with God needs intention, time and attention each day, and that the experiences of daily life direct one to know the ways that God calls and forms one as a Catholic Christian. Through the conscious practice and discipline of this prayer, one can better learn to recognize God’s presence in life and become more discerning and responsible to respond to God each day