In my daily meditations today, I wrote about generosity, and the need to take a regular still point, in order to become aware of our levels of love and compassion. At times we fail to do this, and it leaves us open to drifting through life without cultivating the virtues of love, kindness, peace and good will toward others.
So how do you do this, practically? What does this look like?
One way is through a version of a Jesuit spiritual practice known as the Examen. If you want to know more about the Examen, read up about Ignatius of Loyola, and you will see it is part of his much wider teaching on spiritual practices. He was quite the lad for that sort of stuff.
The morning Examen I set out below is modified, for two reasons: a) I want something that people who do not self identify as Christian/religious/whatever can engage with. b) The purpose of this particular exercise is to become more aware of our attitudes and dispositions, and by becoming aware, to change them for the better.
So here’s my five step Examen:
1) Be grateful.
“What am I grateful for today? What things, people, events, or circumstances can I be grateful for?” Even in the most dire of circumstances, there should be a crack of light that you can be grateful for. Even if it’s just: I’m not dead yet. For most of us though, there are many more things than that, for which we can be thankful.
2) Accept your failings.
Gently reviewing the day gone past, and being really honest with yourself, recognise, and accept your failings. This doesn’t mean beating yourself up, or wallowing in self condemnation, it’s an honest, unflinching, recognition of where we’ve gone wrong.
3) Acknowledge your successes.
Reviewing the day again, consider where you did well, where your attitude was positive, where you were loving and kind. It’s not about bigging yourself up, or thinking about how great your life is. Its about sensing where your attitude was positive, and recognising what led you to put others first.
4) Forgive and be forgiven.
If the review of your day has brought to mind times when people have hurt or upset you, try to forgive them. Recognise that often our hurt springs from how we feel about ourselves as much as anything else, feeling compassion for others is the beginning of the forgiveness process.
Compassion needs to extend to yourself, and you need to accept that you also need forgiveness. There are three ways of looking at this, for those who have a belief in God, they may seek forgiveness from the divine. For those without that belief, they need to forgive themselves. For everyone, there may be a need to gain forgiveness from someone you hurt. This is the change point, the place where we say we’re going to live differently. In the Christian tradition, this is linked to a process called repentance, which effectively means to turn back, to change your ways.
Having gone through the first four steps, you’re in a better place to prepare for the day ahead. Spend a few moments considering what you have ahead of you, and who. Recognise where your weaknesses may come under stress, accept them, and make it your intention to address whatever comes your way with an attitude of love, generosity, and humility.
On a daily basis, this needn’t be a lengthy process, but particularly in combination with silent meditation, this is a really helpful and healthy regular practice to develop.
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