Archive for March 20th, 2020

Disciplined reflection is foundational to what it means to “examine ourselves”. We turn the gift of reason inward to check on the state of our souls as a counterbalance for what we necessarily execute on autopilot in our ever busier lives.

The central spiritual challenge we each have as 21st Century pilgrims of the Way, is to uncover our True & Higher Selves. Examens of consciousness are adjunct tools of self- inquiry that assist us in our work as penitents praying for the grace to set aside the numerous distractions strewed along the Path. These tools derive from, among other sages, the practices of Saints Bonaventure and Ignatius of Loyola. Both crafted disciplined “Examens” intended to help augment and deepen prayer.

There is an exercise that comes out of the Cognitive- Behavioral psychology toolkit that offers a different perspective on the work of examining our mental contents; additional scaffolding to help as we continuously work to build the architecture of our inquiry.

The Exercise: Set a timer for three minutes. Jot down, on a blank piece of paper, everything that courses through your mind before the timer runs out. When time is up, count the number of thoughts.

This is an easy way to tap into where our head’s are at any point in time. Once done, and you’ve counted up and considered the content of your conscious thought, ask:

  • How many individual thoughts do I count?
  • How many repeat themselves around certain themes.
  • What’s the tone of the contents of my thinking?
  • Around what issues do my thoughts revolve?
  • What surprises me?

Do this three times throughout the day ( e.g., early morning, early afternoon, and early evening) . In each case, make sure you can do this without interruption.

Before bed, take each of the 3 minute readings and multiply the number of thoughts by 20. As a final task, add together the three products (from multiplying the number of thoughts in each of the 3 minute samples by 20) and divide that sum by 3. This gives an index of the average number of thoughts over your typical waking hour during the day now coming to a close.

Do this every day for the remainder of Lent and plot them on a simple graph and note the trend; a quantitative handle on the degree of interior “noise” we are carrying.

Why bother, you may reasonably ask?

Well, we may know we are busy and worried and preoccupied in general but, just like the advisability of taking a measure of our weight daily each morning if we are working towards a weight goal, it’s good to hop on the “scale” of the weightiness of our thoughts every day to stay alert to the trends if our goal is to open up more space for the Spirit to fill.

For those working to cultivate greater spiritual interiority, it’s a “quick and dirty” heuristic to help flag ways in which we may need to be more deliberate and intentional about managing our thought-time.

What is often revealed is a need to tend to certain kinds of thought in a way that can help us to more effectively set them aside rather than ruminate incessantly. We may spot obsessional patterns, habits of automatic thought. Heightened attention to what’s happening inside our minds helps us to stand down the noise overall.

I have come to refer to this as a part of my own spiritual ” Noise Abatement Program.” It simply does no good to find quiet spots in my home or community in which to reflect in solitude if I carry into that quiet space a heavy load of mental content. That oppressive load will surely undermine the goal of centering and self-emptying.

For me, it is a fitting collateral Lenten discipline along with scriptural reading, other examens, and prayer. I encourage you to try it and see if bears fruit for you.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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