Examen

Off and on for the last couple of months I’ve been watching a lot of animation. I’ve always liked animation as a way to tell a story, but lately I’ve been doing something a little different: sometimes at the end of a really good scene, I’ll think to myself “I have to see how they do that.” I’ll grab the DVD remote and watch scenes again and again, slowed down to a fraction of normal speed, sometimes paused completely so I can scrutinize a single frame.

This process gives me a totally different perspective on animation as a form of art. It helps me see details that I’ve never noticed before (I remember the surprise when I first saw that a character was totally off-screen for a few seconds of one shot, and I had never even realized it). Hand-drawn animation is especially fascinating in this way, knowing that every single frame is a separate drawing, and that it takes thousands of them to make up one episode of a half-hour TV show, many more thousands to make up a feature-length film. So much work, so much careful and considered art, and I miss so much of it when I watch things (or often, skim things) at normal speed.

It’s an interesting coincidence that about a month ago my counselor introduced me to a spiritual practice called the examen, the cornerstone of a set of Christian spiritual exercises designed by St. Ignatius. There’s plenty of information about it online, but my introduction came via a brief, wonderful book titled “Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life” by Dennis Lynn, Sheila Fabricant Lynn, and Matthew Lynn.

The examen is neither complicated nor especially time-consuming. It is intended to be a daily practice, undertaken at least once a day, though more frequently is possible. To use the process as described by the Lynns, take a few moments to become quiet and aware of God’s presence, and then ask yourself two questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?

For what moment today am I least grateful?

There are other ways to pose the questions; sometimes I use the form “what moment today gave me the most life, and what moment drained the most life out of me?” Whatever words one uses, the point of the exercise is to get in touch with how our experiences really affect us by choosing to slow down and examine them at close hand, not assuming that we catch everything important as it flies by at full speed. Paying attention to the details of our days, making a point of noticing what parts of our experience really bring us life and which don’t, can make us aware of the deeper longings and hurts of our hearts. It can help us get out from under our muffling habits and preconceptions, things that help us dig ruts and keep walking in them. It can help us to understand God’s guiding and intentions for us — the examen relies on a belief that God speaks us through these details of our very own lives, calling us toward him and what he wants for us. In general terms, God’s will is for us to do more of what gives us most life. But unless we stop and pay attention, sometimes we never detect what our own supremely life-giving things are.

I’ve been asking myself the two questions every night before going to bed and writing the answers in a notebook. In reviewing all my answers over the last several weeks, I’m already starting to see patterns emerge. One primary source of hurt and longing for me is isolation, my long-standing tendency to hold myself apart from other people. As I look at all the days on which my sense of fulfillment or lack are directly related to the presence or absense of other people, I can’t deny that I need to develop more and closer connections with other people. It’s not easy, but as I become more aware of what the examen is showing me, I’m starting to make some different choices here. There are other patterns; how I spend my time, how I to treat myself and think about myself, whether or not I listen to fear. I’m developing a better awareness of how each of these things affect me, and that naturally influences my daily choices regarding these things.

Just like watching animation in slow motion gives me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the animator’s art, watching my own life more closely, frame by frame, is helping me understand how to live a better life, my own better life, apart from old habits and other people’s expectations. It’s guiding me in how to sketch the next frames, how to write the next scenes, what kind of characters I want to include, and what sort of character I want to become.

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2 comments so far

  1. Aline Natasya on

    Thanks for the story..

    • stitchesandwords on

      Stories are more fun when you share them, thanks for reading :)


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