Background: St Ignatius pioneered The Examen in the 1500’s. This is a method of reflecting on the day, and considering where we find our consolations (places it easy to see God’s work) and desolations (places where it is more difficult to see God at work.)
One of my favorite things about this practice is the ways that it helps me to put my life in perspective. Sometimes, I am feeling quite stressed out. My sense is that there are many things that are weighing me down. What I discover is that I have many more consolations than desolations; I have much more to be thankful about than I do to worry about. Sometimes, this process even helps me to recognize that the things I initially thought were desolations are actually consolations: When my initial instinct is to think God isn’t there at all, I actually find God waiting there for me to catch up and find he was waiting there all along!
1. Take a dew deep breaths: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Try and fill the lungs thoroughly on the inhale. Try and empty them completely on the exhale.
2. When you have released your ordinary concerns, turn your mind back toward the last 24 hours. Think first about what came most recently. Relive these experiences. Try and engage your sense memory, and think about the sights and sounds and tastes and smells. Bring your memory further back. Don’t rush through considering all the details, until you find yourself wherever you were at this time, 24 hours ago.
3. Consider your desolations by exploring these questions about this time period you just brought back to your mind. Take your time as you explore each of them:
- When were you least able to give and receive love?
- Ask yourself what was said and done in that moment that made it so difficult.
- Relive the feelings without trying to change or fix it in any way.
- Take deep breaths and let God’s love fill you just as you are.
4. Now, consider your consolations by considering these questions:
- If you could relive one moment, which one would it be?
- When were you most able to give and receive love today?
- Ask yourself what was said and done in that moment that made it so good.
- Breathe in the gratitude you felt and receive life again from that moment.
5. At the bare minimum, try and hold your gratitude for the consolation. Consider, if you can, the desolation. Is there any way that made the positive part better? Is there any sort of gratitude you can find for even the difficult events… perhaps for the growth they make possible in you? Perhaps that you had the resources to withstand this difficult time? If this feeling is not there, don’t force it or shame yourself; as a human being, this is simply where we are sometimes.