Praying the Examen is a good habit to establish. Every day, you review the day, notice where and how God was present, and notice how you responded to the day. You give thanks, ask forgiveness, and ask for help tomorrow. The Examen is a good “tracker” prayer that can help you keep up with yourself and remain aware of how you are moving through the day.
The Examen can also be a good means of identifying the need for good habits or discovering good habits you are already beginning to establish. How does this work?
Well, you need to take notes when you do the Examen, and you need to do the Examen consistently for a while—at least a week, if not a few weeks. At the end of the week, look over your notes from the Examens of that week. Look for patterns, such as:
- In what areas of life or parts of the day do I tend to get frustrated, sad, or angry?
- Are there specific sins, struggles, or weaknesses that pop up regularly or often?
- What aspects of my day tend to go well?
For any one of these, do a bit of analysis. If you tend to be frustrated, sad, or angry at the same times most days or before or after the same events most days, note the circumstances that consistently precede or follow your times of frustration, sadness, or anger. What’s the common denominator? Do you need to turn off the national news while driving to work and listen to music or an audiobook instead? Would it be appropriate to say a short but specific prayer before you head into recurring meetings or into hours on a difficult project? Can you connect your mood with sleeping or eating patterns or with being around certain people? What might you adjust? What small thing could you do to help shift the pattern?
The same kind of analysis would apply to recurring sins and struggles. Look back through your daily experiences, searching for triggers to temptation or even thought patterns that set you in an unhealthy direction, say, of resentment, self-criticism, or fear. Then plan a way to counteract those temptations.
When you identify triggers and circumstances around the aspects of your life that are going well, ask yourself if you could become more intentional about these good habits. For instance, lately, you have traded playing games on your phone for reading something on paper (poem, novel, nonfiction) each night before bedtime. You’ve noticed that you’re falling asleep faster. So perhaps you should make a point to be off digital media at least half an hour before bedtime. Or you have made a point to thank a rather demanding neighbor for his concern about how people deal with parties and the extra cars on the street. You noticed that this spoken gratitude brought a gracious response from the neighbor, so gracious it surprised you. So perhaps you should form a habit of speaking gratitude when you talk with any neighbor, if the opportunity arises and a thank you is appropriate.
We are creatures of habit, even though we go weeks or months without noticing what actions and thoughts have become habitual. The simple steps of the Examen prayer can deepen our awareness of what we do and when we do it and why. Awareness brings the freedom to reflect, then plan, and then act. Our actions will form into habits automatically; why not work on our habitual nature with intent and free choice and purpose?
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash.
I have shingles all over my face. All I can think is that God is humbling me. It is also painful. O well life is not always convenient or without trouble. I covet all your prayers or those who pray with you.
Thanks Vinita for such a concise rendering of the steps of the Examen
in your first paragraph
Habits inhabit us to our benefit or peril. Becoming more aware of them does allow us, upon reflection, to shape them to guide us in the right direction
Habits of the mind like our attitude and of the heart such as gratitude can bring us toward happiness and harmony
Thank you Vinita for your thoughts about the EXAMEN. This is totally new for me. This week I will begin learning and practicing it. Most of us live such busy lives, that we constantly jump from one activity to the next, without even realizing where the day went. I can visualize that this practice will slow me down and show a clear direction for my life.
Thank you Vinita, your attention to detail in this circumstance is very helpful for me at this time. I especially related to the feelings part, “what areas do you get sad, frustrated, or angry.” That was on target! I also appreciated your suggestion to look at the bigger picture over a week. I can see that being very helpful and then over the month. The association then also to sin made a concrete example for me to explore and pray with. Thank you for everything that is done through this website!
Thanks Vinita. Nice thoughts on the Examination of Conscience. Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
What I’ve found in my acquaintanceship with the Examen: it is rigorous, revealing and not at all cosy. I am aware of some of my deficiencies and this helps to be more aware of others I tend to hide. I have a regular prayer time with a Benedictine prayer book (sometimes in the morning, mostly in the evening) and I am starting to learn passages by heart which is very comforting to me. The Examen is different and I need to consciously approach it. Thanks for article.