The Examen of Consciousness

I met Christopher Chiu at a pre-requisite course for Spiritual Directors taking Soulstream training. We were paired up in a great soulcare group for the year where we tasted the many contemplative ways together. Chris was a delight to know and I loved the traditional food he brought to our monthly potlucks together. Chris is married and is a father of 3 young girls. He has worked more then 13 years in the food industry. He has a Masters of Christian Studies from Regent College and loves anything to do with Christian theology, biblical studies and spirituality. He is a partner of Soulstream. He is a Spiritual Director who trained under Fr. Elton Fernandes, SJ. As a spiritual director, he leads people through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. He also leads a contemplative group at his home church at Tenth Church in Vancouver. Chris considers home to be his monastery – it is his sanctuary but it is also the place where he does his battles with God and himself. I am pleased to introduce my friend Chris’ contribution to your practice of contemplative ways!

 

The Examen of Consciousness

by Christopher Chiu

The Examen (or the Examen of Consciousness to be specific) is an ancient prayer method practiced by many throughout the history of the Church.  Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, adopted this practice into his Spiritual Exercises.

Jesuits are supposed to pray this prayer twice a day. Ignatius thought the Examen was a gift that came directly from God and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible.

I have been practicing almost daily the Examen for over two years.  This prayer, together with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, has literally changed my life.  Through this practice, I have not only found my core calling in life but also discovered what Margaret Silf called an “inner compass” for navigating my journey with God.  For the Examen helps me notice the inner movements within my soul: Am I moving towards God or away from God in my actions, thoughts and decisions?  Through repeated practices over time one can discover patterns that are crucial to map out where one is growing and where one needs growth.  For example, in my prayer I discovered a pattern of feeling inadequate and wanting to procrastinate when performing important tasks.  This, I slowly discovered, indicated my lack of security in the love of Christ which limited my capacity to serve God and others.  This “unfreedom” was keeping me from becoming fully the person that Christ has created me to be.  I also discovered a pattern of feeling fully alive when I helped people to gain a better understanding of a concept or reality.  This makes me want to further develop my gift of teaching and seek out opportunities to teach.  I believe we become more godly when we are more fully human.  And we are more fully human when we are fully alive.

We begin the Examen by being present to ourselves.  We find a relaxed position (e.g. sitting, walking, standing). We notice our body, our breathing and our environment.  When we are fully present, we remind ourselves that we are in God’s loving presence.  He is here to meet us.  He does not condemn us.  Rather, his compassionate love embraces us.

We give thanks to God for one specific thing.  We can thank him for the weather, for our families, friends, or jobs. Then we ask for God’s grace to help us notice and understand how he has been coming to us (through our experience of the events) during the day and how our soul has responded.

Now we begin to go through the period of time lived since our last Examen.  If we practice the Examen daily, it will be the last 24 hours of our lived experience.  It may be helpful to go through the events hour by hour.  Pay special attention to the events that have stirred us emotionally.  How did I react to those events?  Did any events cause us to fear and anxiety, anger, to fall into sin or to move away from God.  Ignatius calls all these negative inner movements desolation.  Stay in those events.  Ask Jesus to show you the significance behind each of these negative movements within the soul.  Do they tell you something about who you are at the moment?  If so prompted, repent and ask for God’s forgiveness and help.

Then, we pay close attention to the events that made us joyful, peaceful, feel fully alive, or drawn close to God.  Ignatius calls these positive inner movements consolation.  Stay in those events.  Again, ask Jesus to show you the significance behind each of these movements.  Do they tell you something about who you are?  Do they tell you something about who God is?  Give thanks to God for these movements of consolation.

One normally can go through the Examen in about 15 minutes.  Do not worry if you do not right away receive any insight from God about the significance of these positive or negative movements.  God may show you in due time as you continue to journey with him.  Do not fall into the temptation of doing a self analysis.  The insight gained from the Examen is a gift from God –  not the result of a self-analysis.

Over time, patterns of desolation and consolation will emerge.  They are the “inner compass” pointing you to the directions where you are still bound by “unfreedom” (or sin) –  these are the places in which God, in his grace, wants to meet you – and where you can be most alive in God.

 

 

 

  1. Mafwizo says:

    This so refreshing and helpful. I am guilty of self analysis. I am experiencing desolation right now, since I lost my closest childhood friend and her son in a motor traffic accident. I am finding it difficult to concentrate on anything so quiet moments reserved for prayer or just to be in God’s presence end up in crying sprees. I am wondering if I am losing my faith in God to take care of me.

    I have used the Examen before but have not done so in a while. This is where I am right now and the graces I am asking for this Lenten season revolve around me being grateful to God for the many gifts,and the grace to find quiet time for prayer,to open my heart to the Lord.

  2. Stan says:

    A wonderful refresher. I remember lots of these bits and pieces sitting in my head, glad to see the whole picture come together again.

  3. Well done. This is very helpful

  4. Catherine Collie says:

    Thank you for this teaching. It is really helpful in explaining how the prayer of Examen works.

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