Daily reflection on our choices and responses is a lovely way to discover inner calm. The Examen is a time-honoured approach to personal reflection and growth.
During lockdown we spent a lot of family time together. At dinner every evening the six of us shared a reflection that we came to call “Best and worst things”. Each family member in turn thought about their day and then told the others what had been their best and worst experience. Often my best thing was my walk in the woods or a joke shared with one of the children. If someone had had a quarrel with a sibling or parent, that might be their worst thing. Other worst things included frustrations at work, a broken kitchen tap or missing friends. This daily time of reflection and sharing helped us support one another. It helped me understand myself and my family better.
Our “best and worst things” was a version of the meditation known as the Examen. The Examen has its roots in Ignatian spirituality. It is an ancient technique of contemplative reflection on the events and experiences of the day. It is usually practised in the context of prayer, seeking to understand how I relate to God and the Universe[i].
There are many variations on the Examen, but the basic idea is always the same: by considering the best and worst aspects of our experience we can discover ourselves, our needs, our hopes and our deepest joys. It helps us feel grateful for what we have. It highlights things we may wish to do differently next time[ii].
Svadhyaya – The Yogic Practice of Self Study
The Examen comes from a Christian tradition. It has many similarities with the Yogic practice known as Svadhyaya or self-study. The Bhagavad Gita and other ancient texts teach us that Yoga is far more than the physical poses we often think of in the West. Yoga means ‘union’, and it is intended to be a journey toward the unification of the self with one’s higher Self and the entire Universe. In Yoga we aim to become the best we can possibly be, in body, mind and spirit. Part of this journey is self-study or Svadhyaya. This includes self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-reflection and self-examination[iii]. The Examen is a great tool for practising Svadhyaya.
How to Do the Examen
- Begin by making yourself quiet and comfortable. Many people like to light a candle. Take some slow breaths and centre your attention in your heart space.
- Become aware that you are part of a wonderful Universe. If you believe in God or a Higher Presence, become aware of that loving Presence with you and in you.
- Now begin to review the day you have just lived. Many people practice the Examen in the evening, but if you prefer you can do it in the morning and think about yesterday. Recall the events, actions and emotions of the day. Notice what feelings these memories evoke in your body.
- When you are ready, ask yourself these questions:
For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?
When did I feel most fully alive today?
When did I feel drained of life today?
When was I happiest today?
When was I saddest today?
What was the best thing today?
What was the worst thing today?
When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the Universe?
When did I have the least sense of belonging?
- You can reflect on these questions in whatever form makes most sense for you. The aim is to notice, feel and acknowledge your own best and worst moments from the day past. Do not seek to praise or blame yourself or others. You are on a lifetime journey of self-discovery. Today is just one small step.
- Once you have become aware of your answers to the questions, sit quietly with them. You might like to record your answers in a journal, share them with others, pray or meditate, or simply sit.
- When you are ready, blow out the candle. Your Examen is complete.
Sharing the Examen with Others
The Examen is a brilliant spiritual and meditative practice to do alone. It is also a fantastic way to share your life with people close to you. Our family sharing of “best and worst things” around the dinner table helped bring us all closer together. It made us all more sensitive to one another’s needs. Children love this practice. Listening to your child or teenager’s reflections on their day is a great way to communicate with them. You can also share the Examen with your partner or a close friend. It is simple, vulnerable and powerful.
Benefits of the Examen
The Examen, practised over time, is life changing. Many people report increased gratitude, a clearer sense of purpose and direction and better relationships. The practice helps with managing anxiety. It is especially useful if you have big life decisions to make. It is a wonderful tool on the path to self-knowledge. It is one of the best ways I know to find lasting calm.
Today’s Calming Practice – The Examen
Try the Examen this evening. Light a candle and reflect on the best and worst moments of your day. If you like, share this with your family, friend or loved one. Go to bed feeling grateful and calm.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk
If you would like to learn more about the Examen, I highly recommend the beautifully illustrated and simple book, Sleeping with Bread – Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn.