Life Giving vs. Life Sucking

"Learning what is life sucking rather than life giving is critical to begin the shift toward true peace and joy." from my book Adopting Grace.

When I wrote those words, I think I had a destination mindset rather than an ongoing journey mindset. Once I was living in the land of peace and joy for a significant period of time, I imagined that I had arrived. A great deal of hard work went into getting there, so my wish was that I could just camp out there - maybe even for the rest of my life...

But that has not been my experience. There is so much to learn on this journey called life.

In recent days, an ancient Christian spiritual practice called examen has danced before my eyes and mind on several occasions. Examen has much to teach me about the ever present need to pay attention and notice exactly what is life giving for me as well as that which falls in the category of life sucking.

In the past, I have spent significant periods of time writing down things for which I am thankful. Gratitude journals have helped me to focus on the many gifts and blessings all around. But in the practice of examen, that is only half of the discipline that points toward God's direction for our days and therefore our lives. 

A mature and wise friend pointed me to this simple yet profound book on this topic.

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Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life is a primer on the benefits and how-tos of this practice called examen. To access both the life giving and life sucking sides of life, this book suggests that we regularly reflect on a pair of questions - one of consolation and one of desolation:

"For what am I  most grateful? For what am I least grateful?" 

"When did I feel the most alive today? When did I most feel life draining out of me?"

"When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God, and the universe? When did I have the least sense of belonging?"

"When was I happiest today? When was I saddest?" 

"What was today's high point? What was today's low point?"

Though some would rather not focus on the desolation side of these questions, this is often as instructive as the consolation side. And others get bogged down in the desolation and need to intentionally search for the consolation. Both have much to offer us as we make choices and seek life. And there is no one size fits all pathway. My consolation may be your desolation and vice versa.

And as I am learning once again, this is an ongoing journey and not a static destination. I look forward to seeing what the practice of examen reveals to me as I move ahead. I would love to hear your thoughts or experiences of figuring out for yourself what is most life giving for you.