For St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), devout Catholic and author of Spiritual Exercises, the examination of conscience was a vital exercise for one who wished to make spiritual progress. We might liken this practice to an intellectual-moral pilgrimage: a pilgrimage of self-transformation.
A word before we begin. The virtues and defects I write about are a-theistic: that is to say, they put the question of God off to one side.
I want to examine my conscience. To do so, I’ll need to set before me the defects and excesses that overcome me on a daily basis. I imagine this first step of the inquiry as being an honest accounting of those thoughts, actions, and desires that weigh upon me, affecting my way of being in the world–above all, my mood. They seem, as it were, to draw me away from my best self and to usher me toward something uglier and diminutive.
And when I do this, what comes to mind?
- My sense of impatience.
- My tendency toward pushiness.
- My lack of magnanimity. (That is, a certain unwillingness to open myself to others. A certain tightness of the spirit. A closed fist.)
- My myopia. (A certain blindness toward others. A failure to widen my field of vision.)
- My sense of indignation. (A mild form of, or moderate but clenched kind of, anger.)
On Day 2, I’ll need to “suss out” these defects and excesses, chasing each back to its source in my flawed self-conception and skewed world-conception. On Day 3 and following, I’ll need to start with the Herculean task of working on each in turn in an effort to make some moral progress. (NB: Days are not actual days but “stepping stones” on the path to self-understanding. Day 2 may take more than a few days…)
Please follow me. By which I don’t mean, “follow along” but rather: “follow the example; take it in; make it your own.”