Many of you will know about the Ignatian discipline of “Examen.” It is one of my spiritual practices and it has helped me immensely. Maybe because it is so simple.
In the morning and in the evening I ask myself, “What are the consolations (sources of comfort) of the day?” In the morning I imagine what they might be and in the evening I reflect on what they have been.
And the same with desolations, or where I have felt empty, alone or grim. When I word them, they seem manageable and some even solvable.
It is perhaps not so surprising that I can discover Jesus’ presence in these moments of anticipation and reflection around what has been comforting and what has been hurtful or harmful.
Here is an adaptation of this practice that I am learning. When I am in conflict with someone, or feel hurt by someone, or wish to complain, I reflect on the consolations before I speak of my desolations or complaints. I may say the various comforts to the person or I may say them silently to myself. It works to balance my complaints and allows me greater authenticity.
It works a bit like this: “Peter, I look forward to the many events we will share as we have shared in the past. I have found you to be always most trustworthy, humorous and urging me to grow. Also, I have experienced an emptiness in our shared life that I would like to improve.”
In the last several months I have invited my conflictual couples into this simple discipline. It has been interesting to me and to them. One husband reported that it has made winning his arguments and needing to be right less important than in understanding and experiencing his long forgotten hurts as they surface through the conflict. One very angry couple said that their conflict has almost been eliminated because they do the discipline before they complain thereby reducing the need to challenge the other or ask for change.