The Electronic Jesuit Behavioral Test

Way back when I was a teen boy in a Catholic prep school I first encountered a meditation technique (prayer if you prefer) that was credited to Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order. The Examen, as it is called, was a review of conscience where at set times during the day you would reflect on whether or not you were doing a decent job of being true to your beliefs and convictions. While I could never have been described as a good Catholic and chose not to be a Christian I was nevertheless deeply impressed by this kind of devotion.

(There is a clear, thoughtful article on the exercise by a Jesuit here)

Time went by and my own interests and beliefs grew decidedly more philosophical than religious. In student days it became clear from readings in ancient and medieval thought that the Jesuits were not the first to come up with such an exercise. A discipline where the individual examined their behaviors and emotions was in keeping with the Socratic ideal and the exercises of the Stoics. Eastern traditions have their own versions as well.

It really doesn’t matter who came up with the idea. Its a good one. For myself, I often get to the end of the day and look back with dissatisfaction at the points where being άγαθός (agathos) has gone all to hell. The gaffs and missed opportunities can take lots of forms. Maybe it is laziness around martial practice. Maybe it is letting impressions erode my reason and dignitas. Maybe it is some lapse of τιμε (time). It can be any number of things. It seems a little lame after all this time, but I’ve had to conclude that I won’t make it through an entire day without a reminder of being agathos. I need to take stock to make sure I’m not botching it. That’s where the electronic part comes in.

I’ve started setting the alarm on my cell phone to give me a little nudge during the day. When it goes off it reminds me to pause a moment and reflect. What am I doing? How am I striving (or not) for άρετε (arete)?  Am I aware of my thoughts and impressions or are they driving me to unconscious behaviors?  It can also be a reminder of physical practices; breathing, posture, awareness of my surroundings.

Little known fact: Achilles used this same practice at Troy

Sounds a little OCD?  It might seem like a pain or even a little masochistic.  It really isn’t.  Actually I find it gives me a lift.  It awakens and refocuses me.  When that cheesy electronic beep goes off it isn’t like a criticism.  If I am resting then I am resting.  If I am simply enjoying myself with some leisure activity then so be it.  The difference is that I am engaged in those acts consciously and by choice.  I’d prefer to think that someday before I shuffle off this mortal coil I won’t need such a practice aid.  For now, I recommend it.

6 Responses to “The Electronic Jesuit Behavioral Test”

  1. The unexamined life is not worth living.
    Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology
    Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC – 399 BC)

    Or as, my dad told me, “Josh, for every decision and action you make there are consequences: some will be good and some will be bad. So every time you make a decision or take action, you need to ask yourself, ‘what will the consequences be and can I live with them?’ If the answer is no then don’t do it. If you decide to do it anyway and the consequences comes to pass don’t whine about it, don’t make excuses and accept it like a man. You will have no one to blame but yourself.”

    Quoting my dad from The Tao of Josh i.e., me.

  2. Hello! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the good work!

  3. I’ve been using an app on my phone called the Mindfulness Bell. It chimes at random times during the day (9 am to 9 pm), and upon hearing it I take stock of where I am, how I am inhabiting the moment. It has a tendency to sound at moments that I am happy to mark with a mental note. Perhaps you would enjoy this, too.

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