Excerpt from “Chapter 14: The Examen: A Daily Life Review and a Way to Find Our Purpose”
The Gifts of Near-Death Experiences:
You Don’t Have to Die to Experience Your True Home
By Sheila Fabricant Linn, Dennis Linn, Matthew Linn
For many years, we have done a process every evening that is a daily version of the life review and also the best way we know (short of having it revealed to us during an NDE) of finding the purpose of our life.
This morning, I (Sheila) was worrying about how to handle a situation involving a friend who is having a very difficult time emotionally and appears to be acting out this difficulty in his relationships with others. I have felt unsure whether to intervene or wait for him to seek help on his own. I decided to wait, because in this way I can better protect myself and my family. I said to Denny, “I’m trying to imagine myself reliving this situation during my life review after I die. I wonder if what I am doing will seem the most loving choice to me then?”
Since the three of us have begun to catch the benign virus of the NDE, we often find ourselves asking this kind of question. We know from our studies of NDEs that nothing will be lost, and we’d rather get it right while we are still here than have to face our failures of love later. For example, while I was staying with Sheila and Denny, I (Matt) had to decide whether to go to my nephew John’s lacrosse game. As the team’s goalie, he has a lot of responsibility, and he appreciates all the support he can get. The game was three hours away, which meant that if I went I would be giving up a whole day and spending it out in the cold (the forecast was twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit with a twenty mile per hour wind). If I did not go, I could get a lot of work done in my warm, cozy room. It seemed like a no-brainer. I would stay.
But, since I was trying to make decisions in light of the NDE life review, I decided to see if that would change anything. First I imagined myself watching my life review if I stayed home and then if I went. I imagined myself in John’s shoes, feeling how much it meant to him to have me come and how we would get closer afterwards as we shared the game’s highlights. Going to the game would be more loving than staying in my room and doing the work I could do another day. Again, it seemed like a no-brainer, but this time with the opposite outcome. I went to the game. John’s team won 15– 4, and I was there to celebrate with him. That is one of the moments I most look forward to reliving in my life review.
The Examen Can Guide Us
We believe a process we call “the examen” can help us live now in a way we’ll be proud of later. For many years, we have used this process to reflect on each day’s experience. We now realize that it is a kind of daily life review.
As we have used the examen ourselves and taught it to others as the final presentation at all our retreats, it is based on two questions:
What am I most grateful for today?
What am I least grateful for today?
Since we assume that our nature is love and that our deepest desire is to contribute to the well-being of others, we are not surprised that normally at the end of a day we are most grateful for moments when we lived as the love that we are and extended that to others. Conversely, our moments of least gratitude are normally those moments when we were furthest from ourselves and behaved in an unloving way toward ourselves or others.
One benefit of doing the examen on a daily basis is that we begin to see patterns over time, including aspects of ourselves that need growth and healing. Then our examen can focus on these patterns. For example, if a recurring issue in our examen is dealing with a person we find intimidating, we might ask ourselves, “When today was I able to speak to that person I’m so afraid of without compromising my self-respect?” Or, if a recurring issue is losing patience with our child, we might ask ourselves, “When today, as I kept passing by my daughter’s messy room, did I feel best about how I handled my feelings?”
Thus, the examen seems to us to be something of a practice or dry-run for the life review . . . and, hopefully, a way to spare ourselves some regret later. Consider the following example of a couple who are thinking along the same lines as they look forward to being in the “movie” of their life review:
“Learning about the life review has definitely improved my husband’s demeanor! Now, whenever he begins to lose his temper, he wants me to head him off with the words, “Remember, movie time!” He is dreading the day when he will find out what it’s like to be me, listening to his rantings and lectures on various topics. I remind him that both of our “movies” will include joyful scenes as well as sad ones. These days he is trying very hard to insure the second half of his movie will be applause-worthy!”
— From Kenneth Ring’s book, Lessons from The Light
The examen can be done alone, but usually we do it together. Note that in the example above, the husband is concerned about what it is like for his wife to listen to him. He knows that in his life review, he will experience this from within her. When the examen is done with another, we can participate in this aspect of the life review here and now, as well. This is true because sometimes what for one of us is the moment of most gratitude is the moment of least gratitude for another, and sharing the examen gives us a chance to enter into another’s heart.
For example, our favorite country is Guatemala, and my (Denny’s) favorite recreation there is bartering in artisan markets, where everything is made by hand with beautiful, rainbow colors. One evening, during a trip to Guatemala, I shared with Sheila and Matt that I was most grateful for being able to buy six hand-woven shirts. Because I had bartered the price per shirt down from $ 12 to $ 4, I had bought one for myself and five for my friends. That same evening Sheila reported my bartering as her moment of least gratitude. Sheila makes things by hand (she knitted sweaters for everyone in our family), and she knew that each shirt would take about five days to make. So when the seller said, “$ 12,” rather than me offering $ 4, Sheila wanted me to say “$ 24.”
We returned to Guatemala again two years later. This time, before I bartered in the market, I bartered with Sheila about what would be a fair price. She understood my delight in buying beautiful, handmade shirts for myself and my friends, and I understood her concern that native craftspeople be treated fairly and appreciated. At the end of that day, when we did the examen, we all agreed that our moment of most gratitude was the shirt purchase we made, in which both the seller and ourselves felt like winners. Thus, the examen had allowed us to develop the empathy and compassion that is a fundamental lesson of the life review.
We might also think of the examen as a way of reflecting each day on how fully we lived as the Light that we are and followed its guidance, which is always available to us. Many years after her NDE, one woman reflected on how her experience had changed her life:
“Over time, as I engaged in spiritual practices to examine and transform the dark sides within myself, I developed an increased consciousness that a greater spirit was operating in my life, as opposed to viewing life as a series of random, meaningless events. . . . This required attunement to the existence of spirit at work in every aspect of my life, seeing people, places, and things as teachers and as channels by which the Light was trying to communicate with me, offer guidance, and teach me what I needed to learn.”
Near-death experiences suggest that when we die, every moment we lived will be part of our life review. That includes today; sometime in the future, we’ll each be looking at today in the presence of the Light. In this process, we invite you to do the examen now as if you had just died.
1. Close your eyes and put your feet flat on the floor. Breathe slowly and deeply. Place your hand on your heart and imagine that you are breathing in and out through your heart.
2. Imagine yourself in the presence of the Light and doing your life review.
3. Ask yourself the following questions:
When today did I live in a way that I would be really happy to relive after I die?
When today did I live in a way that I would not want to relive after I die?
How might I live this moment differently if I am in a similar situation again?