Let’s talk about prayer.
Now, I don’t mean right before meals or quick prayers throughout the day. I mean, really praying. Actually TALKING to God. But here's how it goes for me: when I begin praying and speaking to God, earnestly and wholeheartedly, with gratitude and intention and for a specific, dedicated time of stillness. . . .something inevitably occurs. . .
MY JUMPING MONKEY BRAIN TAKES OVER.
In the midst of (attempting) to pray, I start thinking about groceries. Or phone calls and errands. Or switching the laundry. Or an essay that I’m writing. Or a problem I am having with a student. Or a son. Or the chickens. Or what I want for a snack. Or what I should bake RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.
Then, I remember that I am praying. WHOOPS.
I get annoyed with myself and feel my cheeks redden. Chastened, I try again.
If it goes in the usual way, I will repeat this process several times before I have sufficiently “prayed.”
Anyone with me on this?
Over the course of the past few years, I have been concentrating on prayer. I have adopted several new practices, including breath prayer, to help combat the monkey brain.
These practices have helped. It has been good. It has been healing.
But I still want more.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent on the Christian liturgical calendar, a season of forty days of repentance, reflection, and preparation prior to Easter. The perfect season to start a new practice.
Enter the Ignatian Examen.
The Examen is a reflective prayer discipline that follows the same structure at the close of each day. It invites the Holy Spirit into your time of prayer in a way that feels tangible and present. It allows for you to gently examine the day you have lived, express gratitude for the good gifts from God found within the day, reflect on where you went wrong, and earnestly recommit to choosing life and love tomorrow. It is a gentle prayer practice WITH A STRUCTURE, which greatly helps my MONKEY BRAIN.
Two of my friends and I have decided to practice the Examen for the forty days of Lent. To aid us in this discipline, we are using Reimagining the Ignition Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day by Mark Thibodeaux, SJ. Thibodeaux’s book explains the general premise of the Examen, guides the reader through individualizing the practice, and provides 34 specific prayer guides to follow.
Here is the basic structure of the Examen practice of prayer (from Thibodeaux, 2015, xi):
Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts I have today.
Request the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day
Review the day
Repent of any mistakes or failures and ask for forgiveness and healing
Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well.
I invite you to try this for yourself. Will you join me? I look forward to sharing with you what I’ve learned. . . and to see if I can be rid of monkey brain once and for all.