#DolphinsLiveWell: Ignatian Spirituality for the Real World
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November 10, 2016
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In recent times, the field of psychology has taken a shift from traditional approaches of treatment such as psychoanalytical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, to embracing the concept of mindfulness, originally an Eastern Buddhist practice. Anyone can engage in this activity without the need of a counselor. Mindfulness, in its most simplistic terms, is learning how to “pay attention in the moment.” The inherent beauty in this is that you can do this anytime, anywhere, and it’s free!
What do we mean when we talk about practicing mindfulness? Mindfulness means maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them, without believing that there’s a right or wrong way to think or feel at any given moment.
Research shows that the benefits of practicing mindfulness include the calming and slowing down of our minds, an increase in positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress, and also a helpful hand in fighting depression and anxiety. When these factors are addressed, mindfulness then helps our physical body’s alignment and balance. Mindfulness practice can encompass periods of time engaged in traditional meditation, but it doesn’t have to. Waking up grateful for another day or taking a walk along the back of Grewen during the fall and intentionally observing and acknowledging the beauty of the leaf colors can also be a form of mindful meditation.
Mindful meditation is a singular focus on a given moment. Did you know that prayer can also be considered another form of mindfulness? Jesuit teachings have a “mindfulness meditation” component that encompasses daily reflection and prayer known as the examen. St. Ignatius Loyola included this as a prayer in his spiritual exercises and encouraged its practice throughout the Jesuit order. The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.1
This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.
Some versions of the Examen place a special emphasis on gratitude and feelings. Gratitude is another avenue that is being explored in the field of psychology with the premise that expressing and acknowledging gratitude on a regular basis can also change brain behavior resulting in positive mood shifts. As a counselor, I will often encourage students to keep a “gratitude journal,” asking them to identify three things that they are grateful for in their lives everyday, in the hopes that eventually there will be a shift in cognition towards the positive rather than negative. The Examen also aligns with the field of positive psychology, again with the thought of looking deeper and intentionally choosing happiness rather than to focus on psychological dysfunction. It is important to note that one does not have to be Catholic or “Jesuit” to practice the Examen; it aligns with all faiths!
The Daily Examen can be summarized as follows: “Think of it as a movie playing in your head,” writes James Martin, S.J., in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. “Push the play button and run through your day, from start to finish, from your rising in the morning to preparing to go to bed at night. Notice what made you happy, what made you stressed, what confused you, what helped you be more loving. Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations. Thoughts, words, and deeds, as Ignatius says. Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day.”
To learn more about practicing the Daily Examen in your life, please visit the following website: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen#sthash.fERkh78q.dpuf