An Old Way of Practicing Gratitude
When we go through trying times in our lives, it's easy to lose sight of the good that remains. Practicing gratitude in practical, tangible ways can ease the sadness and worry. One example of this is the examen, a prayer popularized by the Jesuit tradition. The beauty of this practice is that it can be used by anyone -- the religious, the spiritual, agnostics, and atheists. The purpose is to focus your attention on the good in your life.
The examen can be practiced daily, weekly, or monthly, although you'll find it most helpful if utilized often. It can be done at any time of day, but many find it most helpful to practice at night time, reflecting on what's happened throughout your day. I recommend practicing the examen in the following way (although you can do it in the most effective order for you):
1. Recall anything from your day that you're grateful for, and express thanks for it. You might want to thank your Higher Power, or simply feel the gratitude within yourself.
2. Go back through your entire day, from beginning to end, and notice where you felt most peaceful or most loving. Savor those moments, remembering the details and why you felt so good.
3. Recall any words or actions from your day that you regret. Maybe you behaved in a way that's counter to your best intentions. Maybe you hurt another person in the process.
4. Decide whether you want to ask forgiveness and reconcile with anyone you've hurt.
5. Ask for grace, and resolve to do better tomorrow.
This practice helps us recognize that our lives are suffused with goodness that we regularly fail to notice. It's often only in retrospect that we see the presence of love, peace, and grace, and the examen practice directs our focus to these gifts.