Photo credit: Jim Harris

Me, in 2013 with japa prayer beads. Photo credit: Jim Harris

In Saffron Cross, I wrote about my husband’s morning devotional practice, a routine stemming from from his service as a Hindu monk and priest.

It wasn’t until I met Fred that I began to discern what such a practice might look for me, and when I did—I was always quick to let it slide to the bottom of my to-do list. Even after five years of being married to a someone with an intense spiritual discipline, contemplation didn’t comes naturally to me.

“Busy,” is my answer for everything, and I would rather “busy” myself ragged than set aside time for silence and stillness. I think most of us would.

And, since owning an iPhone, contemplation seemed even further out of reach. Until a few months ago, I woke each morning to a screen that allowed me to check social media, email, and fire my brain into a frenzy of the day’s anxieties—all before I rolled out of bed.

At breakfast, instead of turning to more thoughtful virtual content, I’d take in another dose of net, checking People.com or catching up on The Young and the Restless spoilers.  Why meditate when you can drool over Channing Tatum’s abs?

Once I’d clogged my brain with mush, I’d multi-task my way through a poorly prioritized list. Emails popped up, Twitter pinged, and I found myself running around all day, like a puppy tempted with sticks.

At bedtime, I was exhausted and frustrated. What did I accomplish today that actually felt like living? How did my life get to be this full, and yet so unfulfilling?

In his recent interview with Krista Tippet on The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer helps us uncover one of the culprits of today’s stillness-averse culture:

“But what’s different today, I think, is that so many of us have more and more information, and less and less time and space to make sense of it. We have more and more ‘time-saving’ devices, yet less and less time, it seems. We can make better and better contact with people across the globe, but in the same breath, it sometimes feels, we lose contact with ourselves.” Pico Iyer, “We Are Living at a Post-Human Pace” 

Prior to a recent tech slow down, I was absorbing far more information than was useful, convincing myself that having something to do 24-7 was better than offering myself sacred space to ponder the big stuff. As a result, my daily devotional practice gathered dust, and my spiritual well-being withered.  Like Iyer suggests, I lost contact with myself.

But then, two things happened:

First, Fred and I accepted an invitation to teach three sessions on the practice of contemplative prayer and meditation for this month’s Upper Room Spirituality Conference, SOULfeast: Renew Your People. I knew that if I were going to teach others how to do this, I had better do it myself—immediately.

Second, Lent arrived, and Fred and I were in need of a 40-day inspiration to rejoin Jesus in the wilderness. We opted for tech-free Sundays, a throwback to simpler times and sabbaths. We vowed to unplug and “unbusy” ourselves at least one day per week.

I now had two motivators that helped me reorient my days. So, I set parameters to guide me toward more contemplative time. Here were my rules: 

1) Do not get sucked into mundane Hollywood drama in order to wake up. I determined I would instead read chapters of a thoughtful book, my Upper Room Magazine, or content that helped me wake up, but not in an anxiety-filled way.

2) Read or listen to only “good” stuff for breaks. After my morning devotional, on days I don’t teach, I begin an intense writing and editing work. When I’m in need of a break, I used to do chores (laundry, dishes, straightening with the Flylady system) while listening to the never-ending Victor-Nikki drama on Y&R. I replaced my favorite soap with educational podcasts like Krista Tippet’s On Being and The Tim Ferriss ShowI listened to only what is uplifting, insightful, and that which makes me what to be a better person.

3) Decrease social media intake. Social media is so wonderful for so many reasons, but it can also reinforce feelings of low self-worth and envy. We’ve all been there: we log on to Facebook or Twitter in a good mood, only to find ourselves irritated five minutes later. Throughout the day, I’ve begun to limit my social media intake, determining the minimum effective dose of fulfillment that can come from connecting on Facebook and Twitter.

4) Put contemplative time on the calendar. Besides the morning practice, I schedule in time for meditation practice throughout the day, using the Calm.com app to for several minutes (yes, just minutes–one must start small!) of centering prayer or silence.

The result:

My brain now feels less clogged with content that brought nothing but anxiety. I’m more connected to my inner self, which as a practicing Christian, means a connection with God. I can be still. I now sense the bigger picture of what comprises my day and thus, my purpose.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. –Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

And, lest we think this sort of contemplative life is only for monks and Wendell Berry, we should think again.

Reflection is for everyone: the religious, the non-religious, the Christian, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Agnostic or Atheist. We can all benefit from slowing down and making space to think about what’s meaningful. We only have to say “no!” to the forces that tempt us from solitude.

I’m still a fledgling on this contemplative journey, but I’m willing to keep trying each day—an intention that carries me much further than any celebrity gossip ever did.

Do you have a contemplative practice? Share your experiences and tips below–your story may inspire someone else to try going inward.

Don’t yet have a practice? Visit Calm.com or Do Nothing for Two Minutes. Just be. Notice your breath. Slow down your heart rate. Hold a beloved one in your mind’s eye. Repeat a sacred piece of scripture.

Fred and I are looking forward to teaching this practice week after next at SOULfeast, in the lush NC mountains. It will be a time for a time for both community and solitude, to renew and rebuild.

Have you registered for SOULfeast? It’s not too late! If you’re attending, please consider joining us for three morning sessions on “Be Still: Discovering God’s Presence Through Meditation,”

For more on Pico Iyer and The Art of Stillness, check out his TED Talk: