“Seven times a day I praise You.” — Psalm 119:164
I took a class on spiritual formation from the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, back in the mid-1980s. The instructor, Isabella Bates, led us through a variety of meditative and contemplative practices. We met every Saturday morning from November through May for two and a half hours. It was a wonderful class. One thing that Isabella said, toward the end of the class, has stayed with me over the past 25 years. Commenting on the relationship between meditation and life as a whole, she said, “Our sitting time is a practice time for a way of being.”
What is true about meditation, is true about prayer and contemplation as a whole. We pray in order to live a prayerful life. We contemplate in order to live a contemplative life. It’s not just about a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening — even though such disciplined times are indeed important. But it seems to me that we anchor our day with our morning and evening practice with the goal of transforming the entire day. That we might wake up in a place of serenity and calm mindfulness; that as we navigate the turbulent vicissitudes of the day, with its stresses and emotional highs and lows we might remain in (or quickly revert to) a place of steady inner peace, that as the day draws to a close and we settle down for the night we might do so with a quiet confident joy.
The Psalmist said “Seven times a day I praise you,” which inspired the creation of the Liturgy of the Hours, still prayed daily by monks and nuns and some laypeople the world over. But it seems to me, in the longing of our hearts for a more contemplative life, that meditating seven (or more) times a day might be appropriate as well. Of course, just as the Liturgy has several short offices to complement the two or three longer ones, so too the idea of meditating seven times a day does not mean devoting seven periods of 30 minutes each. Rather, in addition to the “anchor” meditations in the morning and the evening, we can devote just a minute or two to short periods of recollection and quiet mindfulness at regular points throughout the day. Perhaps a minute at the beginning and the conclusion of our daily commute; or a minute before taking our lunch break, or even a minute in lieu of coffee, twice a day. With a bit of imagination and careful planning, each of us could find anywhere from five to ten minutes, spread out over the course of the day, when we can just briefly get in touch with the pattern of our breathing and the silence beneath and between our thoughts. And in doing so, we inch just a bit closer to that place where our entire day becomes suffused with heavenly light.
I’m offering this to you as an experiment. My inner critic is already predicting that if I try to observe seven “meditation minutes” over the course of a day, then I’ll be lucky if I actually remember to do it once or twice! Yeah, yeah. Well, think about this, inner critic: two minutes of silent mindfulness in the midst of a busy day is two minutes better than none.
So if you decide to try this experiment with me, resist the temptation to give in to cynicism, or to beat yourself up if you don’t do it “right” (whatever that means). Just allow this idea of meditation minutes to be just another way to open your heart to the love of God, at random moments throughout your day. And then see where it takes you.