A well-known Christian therapist, who almost exclusively works with pastors, once noted “The number one problem I encounter with pastors is a lack of self-awareness.” That can probably be said of most leaders as well. Why? There are many streams that come together to create that river but in my estimation a few include arrogance, authoritarianism, and isolation from honest feedback that often comes with positions of leadership. Yet, a failure to take the time to self-reflect and self-evaluate may be the leading cause for a lack of self-awareness.
Recollecting Our Days As A Spiritual Practice
Below, we offer a self-awareness practice from Father Anthony de Mello (1931–1987). From the wisdom of his Jesuit spirituality, he encourages us to use our imagination in order to expand our self-awareness and to support our ability to see ourselves in a new way.
Take some time first to quieten yourself, because this exercise demands a great quietness inside you.
To do this exercise, you have to think of your whole day as a film. Let us suppose you are doing this exercise at night. You unwind the film of the day, going backward one scene at a time, until you return to the first scene of the morning…..your first waking moment.
For instance, what is the last thing you did before starting this exercise? You walked into this room and took your seat and composed yourself for prayer. That will be the first scene you will contemplate. What happened before that? You walked to this room. That will be your second scene. And before that?
You are not to participate in these events as if they were taking place again, but to merely observe them from the outside. Look at them in a detached manner, as a neutral observer would.
Begin to unroll the film, going back over each of the events of the day. Take your time and see each of the events in some detail. Take a look especially at the principal actor, yourself. Notice how you act, what you are thinking, how you are feeling. It is very important that while you observe these events you adopt a neutral attitude, that is, that you neither condemn nor approve of what you are observing. Just observe. Do not judge. Do not evaluate.
Keep at this exercise till you get to the first moment of the day, your first waking moment.
This is an extremely difficult exercise to perform successfully. It requires an intense degree of recollected-ness and a great mastery of the art of concentration. This type of concentration comes only to those who are deeply at peace within themselves and have managed to get that peace to pervade their minds and their other faculties. So do not be discouraged if your first attempts meet with considerable failure. The mere attempt to unroll that film will do you a lot of good and you will probably get a good deal of profit from observing no more than one or two scenes or events. The moment you realize you are distracted return to the last scene that you were contemplating before you were distracted.
I often find that reflecting and meditating on my daily actions has a way of allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me and raise my awareness where most needed.
Adapted from Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form (Image Books: 1984, 1978), 99–100.
Posted on March 30, 2021