If you live an active life with a full-time job, an endless list of errands to run and possibly kids or grandkids care for, it can be difficult to stay spiritually-centered. Hours can go by, heck, the whole day can go by, before you realize you’re not in touch with your spiritual core—or aware of the beauty and small pleasures found in the seemingly ordinary moments of life.
I’ve written before about the importance of getting the day off to a good start with a morning routine. Here’s an evening practice that can help you stay better tuned into life. In the book The Ignatian Adventure, Experience the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life, Kevin O’Brien writes of a bedtime contemplation that can help you get prepared for the following day. It’s called The Prayer of Awareness.
The unexamined life is not worth living. ~Socrates
I’ve always thought the quote above was a bit harsh but it brings to light the importance of taking stock at the end of each day. With the Prayer of Awareness exercise, we look at what was good in our day and where our efforts or attitude may have come up short. What follows is a slightly reworked version of what appears in the book.
The 4-Steps of the Prayer of Awareness
Start with a short prayer asking for guidance.
To get in the right frame of mind, take a few focused breaths to clear your head and look within. Open your heart and ask God (or whatever life force you believe in) for guidance. O’Brien reminds us that “there is nothing magical about praying. Prayer is a conversation with God.” So, keep it simple.
John Templeton often stressed the importance of having an “attitude of gratitude.” That means giving thanks for anything good that happened to you today, even the small moments you may have overlooked but upon reflection were special. (Think a brief exchange with a friend or loved one, a glass of wine at the end of a long day, or at this time of year, the blooming of a Christmas cactus.) O’Brien advises us to:
- Give thanks for the “gifts” you received that day.
Review the day and name the blessings, from the most significant and obvious to the more common and ordinary. God (not the devil) is found in the details.
- Reflect on the day and contemplate the feelings that arise.
Think about the events and feelings you experienced throughout the day. O’Brien asks us to truly connect with these moments and ask ourselves:
- Did they draw you closer to God/life? Did they make you more generous with your time and talent? Did they make you feel more alive or more connected to others?
- Did they lead you away from God/life? Did they make you less hopeful and loving? Did they cause you to become less aware or more self-centered?
In other words, figure out what worked during the day—and what didn’t work. Can the things that worked be repeated tomorrow? Can the things that didn’t work be handled differently or avoided altogether?
- Look at your schedule for tomorrow.
What events look to be the most challenging or have the potential to be rewarding? Then, ask God to provide you with the courage/confidence/patience/ determination/peace you need. O’Brien reminds us that God wants to be there with us but we must keep our hearts open to let God in.
The key to making this work: repetition. You need to develop a regular rhythm of using this contemplative practice for it to truly sink in, so be sure to use the Prayer of Awareness regularly. If you’re like me and often find you’re dead tired when you hit the sack, try this simplified version which incorporates the ideas above:
- Connect with God through focused breathing or prayer
- Think about your low point of the day. Can it be changed?
- Think about your best moment of the day. Can it be repeated?
- Pray for the strength/patience/confidence you need for a better tomorrow