The Examen is a spiritual discipline that helps you bring God into your day to day activity. Gaining full awareness of the beauty of creation all around you keeps you present and reduces anxiety. Gaining full awareness of the Creator’s constant presence with you, is what is missing from your mindfulness practice.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! This week I’d like to share a practice that I often add to my own mindfulness practice. The Examen is a simple reflective practice that can help you find God in your daily life. An ancient practice originally developed by St. Ignatius, and thought to be a gift. The gift of finding something that you knew was there all along.
“The daily Examen, a reflective practice for inner peace and harmony.”
The Examen is a word derived from the word “examination” which simply means a detailed inspection or investigation. Using this practice is a way to consider your day from every facet in order to enhance peace. When we practice mindfulness we are bringing our attention into the present moment to experience it more fully. Using the Examen is basically like backwards mindfulness. You bring your awareness to your day after it has happened.
Ideally, it should be done at the end of each day, but many people prefer to do it around midday in addition to the closing of each day. It is my favorite peaceful practice to do as I prepare for sleep. Generally it is done in five steps, which guides you through your day in very specific ways. I’ll explain each step and then show you why I believe it’s what is missing from your mindfulness practice.
The Five Steps of the Examen
- Tune into God’s Presence. Look back on the events of the day. It may at first seem a blur, but as you practice some mindful breathing while you review the day, you will begin to notice God’s presence with you at times throughout your day.
- Review the Day with Gratitude. What delighted you? What blessing did you receive? Think about the work you did, people you interacted with, what did you receive from them? Pay attention to the small things, the food you ate, things you saw, every small thing. God is in the details.
- Pay Attention to Your Emotions. Reflect on emotions your experienced throughout the day. What did you feel most strongly? How did that affect your day? What did you learn about yourself?
- Choose One Aspect of the Day. Reflect for a moment on something that seems significant. It can be a specific encounter with someone, or a moment of happiness, peace or even something troubling. Seek to learn from it without judgement.
- Look Toward Tomorrow. Consider what you know to be coming for you tomorrow. Notice what emotions that thought evokes. Do you feel anxious, happy, apprehensive? Allow those feelings without fighting them, and pray from a place of hope knowing God will provide help and understanding.
“There is no joy without gratitude”Brene Brown
Mindfulness Over the Examen
When I first began to practice the Examen, I did not have a mindfulness practice. I simply rushed through my day in my usual manner, then at the close of the day reviewed it using the Examen. While I found this very calming, over time I noticed how much I missed throughout my days due to my habit of focusing too much on “the next thing”. In addition, I also realized “anxiety” was a theme that showed up daily in my “review”.
After my exposure to and education on mindfulness, I began learning to recognize anxiety in my body in the present moment, rather than “after the fact” at the end of the day. With grounding techniques I learned from mindfulness, my anxiety was better managed. I gave up the Examen in favor of mindfulness, but after a few weeks came to the conclusion something was “missing”.
“The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of the state of your mind”
As much as I benefited from the Examen, I felt mindfulness helped me more during the actual moments of my day. Still, I had that nagging feeling I had missed something. So I determined to try an experiment. I stopped my mindfulness practice and went back to solely using the Examen at the end of he day. I reasoned that way I could “compare” the two practices and figured out which one worked best for me.
Mindfulness Or the Examen?
Turns out this was the best decision for me. It allowed me to consider each practice separately, evaluating the benefits and how I felt after practicing. I admit I was shocked by the outcome. It was easy to see the benefits of both practices, but what I didn’t expect was to find how well each complemented the other.
As I mentioned earlier, mindfulness helped me throughout my day to reduce anxiety and keep me in the present moment to more fully experience all that my day offered. My interactions with those around me became more meaningful and I appreciated even the little details of my day that I often overlooked before.
By contrast, the Examen allowed me to review my day as a whole, after it happened. In addition with cultivating gratitude, this taught me discernment. As I viewed my day as a whole, without judgement, I saw how things happened, and connections between one event and another. It allowed me to see how to improve or avoid certain responses.
Mindfulness + the Examen = Success
As I considered both practices from this point of view, I wondered, why couldn’t I use both? They both clearly offered benefits that improved my quality of life and well-being. Eager to see if my idea would work, I started the very next day. I practiced the techniques I learned from mindfulness throughout my day and ended my day with the Examen.
The results amazed me. As I practiced the Examen each night, my discernment improved and I became more aware of God’s presence and care throughout my day. I saw how my dominant emotions affected decisions and reactions to events and people. When I saw the connection between my reactions and events throughout my day, I understood the purpose of them better.
As I practiced mindfulness, I improved my interactions with people, controlled my responses, and welcomed each emotion without resistance. I appreciated things I saw and heard in the moment rather than relegating them to an afterthought. Having less anxiety helped me to anticipate each day without the fear and trepidation I used to experience.
By using both mindfulness and the Examen, I can now experience personal growth in the present moments of my day, as well as the hope of continued growth as I improve my discernment and understanding through daily review. By reviewing my day through the Examen, my mindfulness practice is elevated by the knowledge of seeing the bigger picture connections and purpose in my day. I think you will agree, the ability to see your day both while it is happening and at the conclusion, will reveal to you, what is missing from your mindfulness practice.