The fast life
In his work Apology, Plato describes something Socrates once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Based on this phrase, most of my life has been a waste. Let me explain.
As I get older the days, weeks, months, and even years seem to fly by faster. It’s not uncommon for me to realize that a week or month has gone by and I barely remember what happened. Days blend together to form one long continuous meandering existence, rather than individual, specific, and intentionally experienced moments.
Taking Socrates’ words to heart, slowing down and reflecting on each day can be helpful on many levels. First, it allows us to pay attention to the events and people we’ve encountered. Second, it opens the way for us to find and cultivate meaning in our daily lives. Third, it creates opportunities to critically assess the day to celebrate the good and discover areas of needed growth. And finally, it facilitates the recognition of the constant presence of God in our life.
St. Ignatius believed so strongly in the importance of examining our life that he made it one of the rules of prayer for the Jesuit order, requiring that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily — at noon and at the end of the day.
The Ignatian version of the daily Examen is done in five steps:
- Place yourself in God’s presence.
- Review the day in gratitude, giving thanks for all God has done for you today.
- Pay attention to your emotions this day. Note where you felt God’s presence.
- Express sorrow for the times you failed to follow God’s will.
- Look toward tomorrow and ask God to give you the grace to do His will.
Down through the ages many other versions of the daily Examen have been created and I tend to use them all from time to time. Here is a sampling:
“Pray As You Go” is an app that has several pre-recorded Examen prayers that follow Ignatius’ five steps in a meditative way with a mix of prayer, meditation prompts, and music. This is a very relaxing and quiet way to do this spiritual exercise.
The “3 by 5” Examen is a quick and easy way to review the day. First, you give thanks for five things that have happened in your day. Then, think of five ways you failed in your day, asking for God’s mercy. Lastly, look forward to the rest of your day, thinking of five things you need God’s help with. If it helps, you can write the 15 items on a 3-by-5 inch index card.
CPR Method is another quick guide:
C = Claim your blessings. Reflect on the good things that happened to you today, and explicitly recognize God’s hand in them.
P = Pinpoint victories and losses that you had today. Celebrate and repent as needed.
R = Renew your loving commitment to Christ.
End with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the sign of the cross.
I have been doing a daily Examen for a while now and it has impacted my life in several ways. First and foremost has been realizing how many blessings come my way every day. Each version of the Examen prayer involves gratitude. It’s not as if I was not aware that God blesses me, rather I just seldom took the time to recognize my blessings and thank God for them.
Another fruit from this spiritual practice has been ending the day with God on my mind. With Him beside me I look back on my day and then look forward to the next day. This might seem insignificant, but for me it really helps me stay connected to Jesus. I am thinking about Him as my day ends, and this helps me awaken with Him on my mind to tackle another day.
But most of all there is a distinct peace of mind that I am no longer twiddling away days, months, and years. Each day is an opportunity to experience God’s wonder and be challenged to grow deeper in holiness. The “examened” life is not only worth living, it is living worthily.