Reaching for Old Wisdom

In this age of 24-hour-news and social media, it is far too easy to be blown off course by the latest “revelation.” Corporations sell us pills for every occasion on the evening news. Gurus write books describing “relationship cures,” “steps to happiness,” and shortcuts to success. Despite these efforts, it appears that we are no more successful, happy, or fulfilled than previous generations.

My studies this past year around theories of counselling and mental wellbeing introduced me to entirely new ways of thinking about how to live a more fulfilled life. It amazes me that much of this knowledge has been amassed within the last 100 years. Or has it. Dale Davidson, of the Ancient Wisdom Project, suggests that one should regard current teachings with skepticism. In a letter to the graduating class of 2015, he recommends that people should not “trust anyone under 500.” He offers graduates this advice: “So the next time you are looking for advice on the way forward, you might turn to a theologian, prophet, philosopher, or saint before any modern-day blogger (except for me, of course).”

This advice impacted me in a powerful way recently as I listened to a sermon at my local faith community. The speaker described a process called the examen, or examination of conscience, to help reflect on one’s daily experience.

St. Ignatius Loyola, 1491-1556, passes the longevity test. He created the Jesuit order within the Catholic church and used this process as part of his spiritual exercises.

Step 1: Presence. Open yourself to the presence of God, or a higher power. Pray to, or communicate with the reality that is outside of, and larger than your individual life concerns.

Step 2: gratitude. Remember two or three things during the day which brought joy. Relive them in your mind. Thank God, or whatever presence with which you identify for these gifts.

Step 3: review. Think about your day from early morning until now and pay attention to those incidents where you noticed God’s presence. These may be small things, like the warmth of the sun, or more meaningful, like the touch of a friend’s hand. If you are uncomfortable with a God metaphor, use nature, the universe, or some other transcendent idea.

Step 4: sorrow. Did you wrong anyone today –offend someone – hurt another’s feelings. Take time to acknowledge these wrongs. Forgive yourself and Ask forgiveness of your higher power. Consider making amends to those you have hurt.

Step 5: grace. Take time to remember that we are all children of our creator. Return to a part of your day where you felt loved. Think about tomorrow and ask for God’s support and grace for the up-coming day.

There are many resources online which discuss the Examination of Conscience. Here is one example.

we do not need to be bound by the immediate concerns of the moments of our busy, complicated and pressured lives. Take time and look backwards. Find a teacher from an earlier age who speaks to you. Remember the meaning and wisdom which has passed time’s test; both for then and for now.