In the wider context of Wisdom training, Benedictine spirituality, with its emphasis on ora et labora (prayer and work), is a good way to bring balance and harmony into your day and to make sure that all three centers are being exercised. If balanced heart perception is your goal, it’s a good idea to spend an intentional part of each day doing some simple physical labor. It doesn’t have to be backbreaking, but it helps if it’s rhythmic. Folding the laundry, chopping vegetables, raking leaves, and trimming houseplants are all simple yet wonderful ways to come back in touch with the physical earth around you and inside of you. – The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart by Cynthia Bourgeault
I am starting a new habit. Every morning (except my sabbath, which is Friday), after I sit, I take 45 minutes or so to do a physical chore. My most common physical chore is to sweep our patio, which is one of those sisyphean tasks – because of a lot of live oaks, every day there are many leaves on the patio.
For many people, this is a normal thing. But not for me. Somehow, over the years, I’ve become exceedingly physically lazy when it comes to chores. Sure, I’ll spend 30 minutes on my stationary bike, or swim laps, or what have you, but I never really enjoyed physical labor. And what’s been surprising to me is that I have not only come to enjoy it, but I’ve come to see it as an essential part of my practice – my practice of ora et labora – prayer and work. And, of course, many teachers over the years have known this to be true.
In our modern world, so many of us don’t have to (or, often, don’t have time to) do manual labor tasks, like chopping wood, carrying water, etc. I guess my one exception has always been washing dishes – I’ve never wanted a dishwasher – I’ve always used washing dishes as a way to practice presence. And what I’ve found in working outside is a pleasure in my natural environment that I didn’t really know that I could have – it’s been a new found joy.
The Prayer of Examen is part of the Igatian Spiritual Exercises, originated with St. Igatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. It is a powerful practice, allowing you to observe your day from a place of openness to what happened, what is, and God’s presence during the day. I have some slight adaptations to the Examen to make it a bit more expansive and inclusive of different perspectives.
First, the most important thing about this is that you approach this with a sense of compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others, and a willingness to allow the Spirit to speak to you and work in your heart. This prayer is done at the end of the day, just before you are ready to sleep. Find a comfortable place to sit. This can also be done lying down, although you may risk falling asleep during it.
Here is an audio teaching on the Prayer of Examen.