The Rat Race
In our culture today, we live in a non-stop rat race that keeps us constantly busy. We’re rarely able to participate fully in our own lives because we anticipate or worry about the next thing. We’re easily enchanted by what’s around the next corner. We are stimulated by excessive activity, excited by commotion, and overly thrilled by the endless series of things that need to be accomplished.
In such a rat race, we avoid the present moment. We do this in part because the present moment requires honesty about where we are and who we are. It calls for peace, attentiveness, and interior satisfaction. It’s a sign of contradiction to the existential circus around us.
If we don’t slow things down and live in the present moment, then we quickly become strangers to ourselves. Is there a way to slow down the pace? Is there a way to temper the rat race?
Here’s one very simple, five-minute prayer method that can help. It can be done while waiting for a meeting, in between appointments, or while sitting on a bus. It’s an accessible, easy-to-follow method.
Used within the Christian spiritual tradition for the past five centuries, the prayer method known as the “examen” can provide a five-minute reprieve to our busy minds and hearts.
The word “examen” is an older expression for examination. As such, the prayer method consists of five steps that help us to examine where we are and what we’re doing. The steps follow a fluid process with one leading to the other. Involving our bodies, we could just as well move through the steps as we physically touch each finger on one of our hands.
The five steps are as follows:
- Gratitude. As we take a momentary pause from our tasks and duties, we mentally give thanks to God and to those around us for being where we are. We remove any criticism, disappointment or entitlement that might be in our hearts. Instead, we fill our minds with thoughts of thanksgiving, claiming the grace of the exact moment where we are (and not thinking about where we’d rather be).
- Petition. As we give thanks and make ourselves more aware of where we are, we ask God for specific help in that moment. Rather than being distressed over the past or worried about the future, we ask for what is needed in the present moment. Perhaps it’s patience so that we can listen compassionately to another person who is slowing us down or demanding time we needed for other things. Maybe it’s mercy toward another person who messed up a task or made more work for us. In this step of the examen, we ask for what we need right in the moment.
- Review. As we claim the grace of the place and the moment where we are, we all recognize any harm or hurts that we’ve offered to other people or to the world around us. Maybe anger led us to harsh speech or pride made us dismiss the valid opinions of others. In this step, we want to acknowledge any offense we’ve given to kindness, dignity, or tranquility.
- Forgiveness. As we name our faults and accept any hurt or harm that we’ve caused, we ask God for his mercy and resign ourselves to give or to ask for the mercy of others.
- Renewal. Concluding our examen, we asses the four previous steps and recommit ourselves to the present moment and to any action items that need to be made in order to re-establish our interior peace and/or peace with others and the world around us. Our renewal might have us show an extra act of kindness to someone, or seek them out for reconciliation, or it might have us resolve to be more hopeful or compassionate in future situations.
This is a time-tested prayer method that has helped generations of people to live in the graces of the present moment.
In our fast-paced world of telecommunications, social media, and multitasking, the examen is offered to each of us as a five-minute blessed relief, a temporary oasis from the busyness of our lives. Let’s not miss this opportunity. It’s our life, and we shouldn’t let it pass us by.