This is a favorite question of one of my spiritual direction instructors. She encourages us to look to those areas of our lives and ministries that hold energy for us, that are exciting and spark passion.
This language makes total sense to me, because I have seen firsthand that good, interesting, useful work can come out of people doing work that excites and energizes them, and cultivating awareness around that can, I think, lead to an exciting and energizing life.
I also think that one of the most valuable tools for identifying areas of energy is something known as the Ignatian Examen, one of the spiritual exercised developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen, traditionally, consists of a number of steps (five, generally, but different people divide them in different ways):
- Acknowledge that you are in the presence of the living God.
- Look back on your day with gratitude for God’s gifts.
- Ask the Spirit to guide you in your reflection.
- Reflect on the major experiences of your day, noting your feelings and responses, and considering which events brought you closer to and which brought you farther from God.
- Pray about these events, asking forgiveness and giving thanks where appropriate.
- Look forward to the following day, considering what can be learned from your review of the previous day, and looking ahead to and asking God’s presence in anything you anticipate in the coming day.
There is much valuable material in the long history of the Examen, but the important part is not getting all the steps right and rightly ordered. In fact, I think even a heavily abbreviated and adapted variation can be incredibly helpful in learning to spot patterns of energy and deadness in our lives. In fact, I learned just such an abbreviated Examen when I first encountered it, as a spiritual practice introduced when I studied at the Oregon Extension. That abbreviated version, similar to what I still use today, went a little like this:
Reflect on the last day. When, in the last 24 hours or so, did you feel closest to God? When did you feel the most alive and energized? When did you feel most like yourself? When, in that same time, did you feel farthest from God? When did you feel dead or exhausted? When did you feel least like yourself?
This doesn’t take long. It’s the sort of thing you can do as you’re falling asleep (or, if you prefer, over your coffee, though the Examen was designed as an end-of-day practice). You might find it helpful to use a journal, but it’s not necessary. You might find it helpful to do more research and practice the Examen more closely to the Ignatian model, but it’s not necessary.
The key is, as you begin to become aware of those things that make you feel most truly alive, to move nearer and nearer those things, to consciously integrate them into your life, while working to avoid or reframe the things that deplete that energy. In this way, day by day, inch my inch, you are living into the abundant life God dreams for you.
Do any others out there practice some form of the Examen? What is that experience like for you? Can you think of some things right now that bring you life and energy? How do you try to include those things in your everyday life?