Examination of Conscience
Photo by Winnie Southworth
Most evenings just before I start getting ready for bed I sit down at my computer, open my journal, and type the sub-header "Examination of Conscience". I look back over my day and reflect on how I interacted with the people, events, and things that made up my day. One of the things I am working on lately is captured in the first sentence of Desiderata by Max Ehrman : "Walk placidly through the noise and haste". So I reflect on whether I was calm and loving in my interactions with my family and calm and friendly on any meetings or telephone calls I was involved in. I also reflect on whether I was calm and relaxed as I worked through my todo list. In short I reflect on whether or not I really walked placidly through all of the events of my day. I try to include both the times I got frustrated and the times I really did walk placidly through a difficult conversation or task and the times I got frustrated and fussy. It is important here to include the good, the bad, and the ugly.
An Example From My Journal
Today was generally a good day, and I got a lot of things done and was mostly calm and relaxed. But this afternoon I was on the phone with customer support fixing a problem with a financial website. Got it done, but the man on the other end started preaching to me about not knowing the answers for the security questions I set up several years ago. I explained to him it was a very long time ago, but he kept on ranting about it. What is ironic about that is that at the same time he gave me bad information about where I could go to fix it. Anyway I finally got fed up, and said a couple of bad words and hung up on him. I really wish I hadn’t done that. I thought that automatic reaction was gone. Oh well, the journey goes on.
By writing this down during my Examination of Conscience time in the evening I was able to reflect on the event when I was centered and not upset. At that point I knew that I did not want to act that way, and as I reflected on it what came to mind is a spiritual principle I have written about and talked about multiple times:
I am always responsible for my inner and my outer reactions to the people, events, and things in my life. Always! No exceptions.
Yes, this man was rude and unreasonable, but that was his problem. Regardless of his actions I was still responsible for mine. I should have been polite, even or especially in response to his rudeness. On reflection I knew in this event I was not the person I am called to be by that Divine Presence that calls to me. I am committed to being self-present in similar situations going forward.
Another Example From My Journal
Over all a good day. Had a good conversation with Steve (my life coach). One insight to mention. I have been talking about where I am now as just living my life, and I have often referred to the old voice mail message “Sorry I missed you. I’m out living my life”. During the conversation he pointed out that it might be better to refer to it as “I am just living my calling”. I like it. He suggested that was a blog post. I need to do that. I spent most of the afternoon working with a friend of mine and a consultant on the friend's email problem. I really walked placidly through that. Struggled on the edge of bickering with Winnie a couple of times, but handled it fairly well. At least I didn’t go into full bicker mode. That is progress. I need to read the rest of Desiderata. I have really focused on only that first sentence: “Go placidly through the noise and haste”. I need to dig deeper into that.
Here I have noted several things that I need to work on. They are not negative things, just insights I need to be aware of and deal with going forward. I have also noted and instance in which I handled a difficult situation well. Both of these things are important. Our examination of conscience really needs to note not only the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also the things we realize we need to do going forward.
In her book, Leaving Church by Barbara Taylor. Barbara Taylor tells a story about talking to an American Indian and asking him why you had to turn clockwise instead of counterclockwise in one of their rituals, and he answered, "Because that is the way The Spirit taught us to do it". This is the way The Spirit has taught me to do Examination of Conscience, and it has become a regular part of my spiritual practice. It helps me to change and grow and to become more and more the authentic person I am called to be. I trust it might help you on your journey toward living an authentic life.