Examen of Consciousness

St. Ignatius practiced the Examen twice daily. This simple, 5-step guide can take only 15-30 minutes, yet produces rich intimacy with God. This rich intimacy is something that you can experience by doing the Examen on your own, or with a close friend, or even a small group of students or adults.  Many find that when practicing the Examen, something extraordinary shifts in their soul and service. The abundant life Jesus promised comes when we know ourselves and serve others from the truest parts of who we are. Try it today either at the beginning of your day or at the end. 

To set the stage for this holy time, get into a quiet space, free from distractions. Turn off your cell phone. Still your body, heart, and mind as you enter the Examen. 

Recall you are in the presence of God.“I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence…you are there.” Psalm 139:7-8. The first step of the Examen reminds us of a foundational truth: God has never left us; we just forget God is there. Stop for a few minutes and remember God’s presence around you, in your circumstances, and acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s work within you. Write down any thoughts, feelings, or observations as you reconnect to God’s presence.

Look at your day with gratitude.“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” Psalm 139:14. Most of the time it’s easier to remember what is not going right, what we don’t have, who’s not “for” us, and how we have let God down. This step in the review is a reminder to pull our eyes off what is not and to remember who is. You can spend as long as necessary on this step, simply raising your eyes and hearts to the God who has blessed you beyond measure. The point of this step is to shift the focus off yourself as the false center of the universe and redirect your heart toward the true God of the Universe. Write down all that you are grateful for in this moment.

Ask for help from the Holy Spirit.
 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:23. While this step may only take a minute, it is critical for us to intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to guide this time. Too often our own voices and vices guide our thoughts and decisions. This vital step orients our spirit toward the Spirit of light and truth. It acknowledges our dependence on God to instruct, guide, correct, and speak to us. Write a prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

Review your day.“Test yourselves to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you.” 2 Corinthians 13:5. This is the portion of the review that will take the most time. Approach this step like you are watching a movie of the past 24 hours. Scene by scene, hour by hour, reflect on the truth and reality of your day. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, conversations, internal thoughts, and intimate feelings of the moments from your day. Remember to listen to the whispers of truth and love from the Holy Spirit. Write your responses.

What were the highs—what was most life-giving?

What were the lows—what was most life-depleting?

When did I fail?

When did I love?

Do I observe any habits or life patterns?

When did I see evidence of God’s presence? 

Reconcile and resolve.“Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:24. This final step brings closure to the Examen through focusing on the future. It points us to course correction, righting wrongs, and a fresh start. It points us back to the abundant life Jesus came to offer. And this step reminds us that God’s love for us will never run out; it brings us back into right relationship with the Giver of Life. Take some time to consider where you might need to reconcile with God or another person and resolve to make it right as quickly as possible.

Close: St. Ignatius always ended the Examen with the Lord’s Prayer. This simple guide is so beautiful because it invites us to remember God and the life God has given us. It brings us full circle back to David’s Psalm of praise and remembrance: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.” Psalm 139:1

Today, breathe in the presence of God in new ways and receive his new yoke of freedom and lightness.