Examination helps!



A little while ago I bought a holiday read at an airport.  It was called “The Time Keeper” and was by Mitch Albom, who also wrote the bestseller, “Tuesdays with Morey.”  In my opinion it was a fairly lightweight book until it got to the final chapters where it posed a frightening scenario of the future.  I do not want to give the whole plot away except to say that the people of the future had so lost touch with their feelings that they watched ‘films’ of memories of past people to put them in touch with something – anything –  to do with feeling.

Is this ‘out of touch-ness’ with our feelings a new phenomenon?  I do not think so.  But I do think it may be getting worse.  We live in the most distracted culture and distracted time in our history.  The distraction is self-chosen to a certain extent, but also addictive.  The distraction is created by the busyness and complexity of our lives which we counter-balance and get relief from through entertainment.  So we play with ipod and ipads on journeys, when out for a walk or exercising.  Listen to radios when driving.  Walk into our houses and switch on our large flat-screen television, stream our film or chosen programme or play computer games.  There is constant entertainment, constant noise and constant avoidance.  And I know how tempting it is.  If I have had a tiring and demanding day all I want to do is collapse on the sofa and watch mindless television – like moving wallpaper.

The problem with living our lives like this is that we know, all of us know on a certain level, that our lives lack meaning.  We may not voice this to ourselves in words but the shallowness and emptiness that we feel is articulated in other ways which may lead to even more damaging distraction and avoidance.  But as I have insinuated earlier, I think this has always been a problem we humans have had: if not as badly as we have it now.

Socrates famously said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  St Ignatius took this a stage further when he gave us the prayer exercise called the Examin or Examen.  Some call it the Examin of Conscience but I prefer the other title, Examen of Consciousness.  For St Ignatius, the creator of the famous Spiritual Exercises, the Examen was the most important form of prayer you could and should do.

I am only going to write of the first half of the exercise now.  Briefly, in the Examen, we sit quietly and go back over our day in our minds to see where we have “been.”  We ask where have been the positive moments in my day, when we felt suddenly alive to something, close to someone or something, moments of joy, moments of surprise, moments where we turned to God – all those times of waking up and feeling connection.  As we recall these moments we are often surprised by seeing something consciously for the first time.  At one level we must have been aware but it had not risen to our consciousness.  The result during this time of “recollection in tranquillity” is that we often see and feel things more deeply.  Our hearts are warmed and we feel gratitude.  Praise and thanksgiving rise spontaneously in our hearts.

Sometimes a whole experience from the day can be turned upside down.  Something that had at the time appeared mundane and tedious suddenly shows itself to have been acutely important, life giving and affirming.

In order to experience our real feelings, to see our days and to feel a life-giving response to all that each moment brings, we have to give ourselves these moments of recollection.  The most important thing I have noticed is that when I do this exercise, even if I have been tired and hard-pressed beforehand, I am no longer weary and usually I feel at peace.  It is not only important, it is essential that we examine our lives.