St. Ignatius’s Exercise on How to Change Your Perspective Toward Problems


Problems frequently give a vague sense of disquiet, a sense of things not going in quite the direction you had planned however, you have no clear thoughts of what the ‘right’ direction might be. This exercise that follows was suggested by St Ignatius Loyola (some 500 years ago).

It allows you to explore problems at a ‘deeper’ subconscious level by changing your perspective from the external to the personal. He suggested imaging yourself at different ages while experimenting with new ideas to solve problems. Begin by relaxing in a calm, quiet environment then:

Imagine your infancy, in your imagination think back to when you were a small, helpless, dependent, infant born into a particular environment

Imagine being 5, imagine you are now 5, how did it feel to be 5? Can you picture images and memories from that time?

Imagine being 12, 25, 40, 65, after a few minutes, project your imagination to what you were like when you were 12, did you worry? What was important to you? What was your world like? Using the same method of thinking, ask yourself the same questions for age 25 and 40 and 65.

Imagine being very, very old; imagine looking in the mirror when you are very old. What do you see? How you feel about yourself? Who are you? Take a retrospective look over your whole life – what really mattered? What would you have liked to have done differently? Are you ready to die?

Imagine your death, what are your thoughts as you imagine yourself dying? Imagine your closest friends and relatives, what would they be thinking about you?

Imagine being reborn, after a few, or when you feel ready, imagine you are going to be reborn. You can be reborn, anywhere at any time, as anything you desire. What would your choices be?

Return, when you feel ready to open your eyes, gradually look around you as if seeing everything for the first time.

All of us can change our perspectives by following St. Ignatius’s exercise. Peggy Dupra, a middle school principal,  had a problem with her female pupils who were experimenting with lipstick. The girls were kissing the mirrors in the bathroom leaving their lip prints on bathroom mirrors. The maintenance department constantly asked her to have the pupils stop this practice. Peggy lectured, pleaded and threatened the girls with detention, but nothing seemed to help.

She and I discussed the situation, and I suggested the St. Ignatius technique which uses your imagination to change your age and circumstances both past and future. This exercise re-creates earlier and future selves. After a few moments, you’ll become aware of random thoughts, associations and images from past and future years. Eventually these thoughts and images will be accompanied by emotions–in some instances, very intense ones. These emotions are stimulated by the brain’s attempt to reconcile and synthesize the disparity between the real “you” and the imagined “you.”

While the brain knows the imagined you isn’t really you, it will still respond from moment to moment as if it were real. You won’t just remember events; you will remember how you felt about them.

Peggy tried the exercise. She began remembering all sorts of past friends when she was twelve years old, and how she really felt at the time about the world. The more she remembered, the more she felt like a young school girl. She laughed when she thought of her best friend, Ellen, of years ago and how they always tried to gross each other out in a game they called “Yechhhh!” She remembered one time when they spread the rumor that the cafeteria was using sewage water from a ditch to make pizzas to save water. The students refused to eat the pizza.

Suddenly while thinking about how they grossed out students, she got an insight on how to solve her bathroom lipstick problem. After conspiring with the janitor, she invited the girls into the bathroom saying she wanted them to witness the extra work they made for the janitor cleaning their lip prints. The janitor came in and stepped into an open toilet stall. He dipped his squeegee into a toilet, shook off the excess toilet water then used the squeegee to clean the mirrors. Changing her perspective from an adult to a young girl introduced a clever solution to her problem that she could not have discovered using her usual way of thinking.

1 Comment

  1. This is an exercise full of wonder. It is helpful for me as a try to live the moments of my life instead of just counting down the minutes. By thinking through the times of my life I can enter a moment that transcends time. Here is how I think of the difference:

    Minutes are measurements of time.
    Moments are experiences that transcend time.
    Minutes are time at its worst.
    Moments are life at its fullest.
    Minutes are measured, clocked, labeled, scheduled, ordered, alarmed, hurried, packed, and expiring. Minutes tell us when to wake, when to eat, when to leave, what to do, when to return, and when to sleep. Minutes plot our lives in a tangible and visible grid on paper, calendars, schedules, computers, and mobile phones. Minutes are the thin train tracks of our lives with a clear beginning at birth when we get on board and a final stop when exiting is required. When we are young, minutes put life out of reach in some far away future telling us, “Not yet, but maybe one day.” When we are older, minutes count downward like the scoreboard in a basketball game visibly reminding us that our, “Time is running out,” and that, “What Once Was” is far more than “What’s Left.”
    All that minutes are: measurable, numerable, ordered, scheduled, alarmed, and expiring, moments are not. While minutes are about the quantity of life, moments are about the quality of life and deny quantification. Moments are other. Moments transcend charting, calculating, and ordering. Moments are life beyond minutes. Time may be repeated. The same minute will occur tomorrow, but moments are always singular, distinct, particular, and unique. Every moment is a new moment. Every moment is a fresh moment. Every moment is a first moment with new possibilities, new realities, and new life beyond limits of scale, schedule, or measurement. In every moment, you are born all over again, resurrected from what was to what is for moments can be holy, touch eternity, never ticking away but ending to begin. Moments are larger than life or death, far more than minutes, for moments are now.

    Thanks for sharing this great exercise.

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