Are you a fellow participant in the rat race? If you’re like me, and regularly work 40-plus hour weeks in a high-stress environment, you know how hard it can be to keep your spiritual bearings intact. It can often seem like the working world and the spiritual world are at opposite ends of the life spectrum.
So how do you maintain a spiritual focus, when the stresses of the secular world come knocking on your cubicle? Is there a way to stay centered and at peace, even when those around you are in states of work-induced irritability and angst?
Advice from the Front Lines.
Like anything else you want to be good at in life, the key is preparation and practice. That starts with having a daily spiritual routine as part of your regular schedule. It should be as integral to your mornings as taking a shower, brushing your teeth and having that first cup coffee (which itself can be part of your routine, more on that later).
Your prep-work should start upon awakening and can be tailored to what works best for you. For example, my personal workday routine involves the following steps:
- Getting up early each morning and after some stretching, going for a 3-mile run (though any form of exercise will do)
- Meditating for 10-15 minutes when I can, especially on days when I don’t have time to run
- Engaging in some spiritual reading during my bus commute (when I drive to work, I use spiritual books on tape and podcasts)
- Taking a few moments to engage in a prayer of gratitude, giving thanks for everyone and everything I am grateful for
- Enjoying brief spiritual breaks throughout the day—slowing down and focusing on my breath and going on short walks as needed
When we think of our spiritual practice, we often see it as a passive activity, best done while sitting in a comfortable chair at home. But the fact is you can also engage in active contemplation. So for me, activities like morning runs and afternoon walks serve dual purposes, exercising the body while relaxing the mind.
More advice on maintaining an even keel throughout the day comes from Thomas Moore and his book A Religion of One’s Own. Moore recommends that we follow the lead of monks who “intensify the spiritual side of life by incorporating a number of relatively brief times for meditation and reflection during the day.” He advises us that:
Instead of just letting your days unfold spontaneously or being at the mercy of an inflexible, busy schedule, you might start up a few regular activities like mediation before breakfast, listening to music before lunch, being quiet after 10 p.m., eating simply in the morning and taking a quiet walk afterward, if only for five or ten minutes.
Moore even mentions one of my favorite soul-enriching activities: enjoying a cup of coffee in the early morning hours. Now to put this is context, it’s not about sipping a cup as you surf the Internet with the TV blaring in the background. It’s about getting up before the family, quieting the mind and becoming totally immersed in the moment as you sip your coffee.
But what if, for whatever reason, you’re not able to engage in daily exercise, and meditation just doesn’t cut it for you?
Try starting the day with centering prayer. It’s essentially a prayer without words, or more accurately a prayer with a single word. Its aim is to help you establish a deeper relationship with the Divine, to the point that God becomes a living reality in your life, available to you at all times. With an assist from David Frenette and his book The Path of Centering Prayer, here’s a six-point “how to” guide:
THE SIX STEPS OF CENTERING PRAYER
- Choose a one- or two-syllable word such as God, Jesus, peace, love, stillness or faith. (I cheat and use three syllables that direct me to my ultimate goal: Rest in God.)
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Silently introduce the word as the symbol of your consent to allow God’s presence.
- Repeat the word over and over, moving deeper and deeper within yourself.
- If the mind wanders, gently return to the word.
- Rest and simply be with God “as if you put your head back down on the pillow after waking.” Sense the presence of God within you.
- As your prayer ends, let go of the sacred word and rest your mind for a minute or two before going about your business.
I’ve read that it can take six months or longer to master centering prayer, but if you’re versed in meditation I think you’ll see the results much faster, perhaps immediately. Also, it’s important to note that as time goes on, Frenette recommends engaging in centering prayer without any words, to “let go of the life preserver and just float.”
And that’s what I now do. As this wonderful analogy suggests, I release the life preserver and float. I do this in the early morning before exercising, sipping coffee in the quiet of my home, while the family is still sleeping and only the cats are awake. Sipping. Centering. Feeling the presence of God. And I am better prepared for the workday ahead because of it.
This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, September 24, 2014.