January is the time to make big resolutions, and for many of us this includes becoming healthier and more physically fit. But this year, why not strive to improve your spiritual health as well?
I recently wrote about how important it can be to start each day with a morning ritual and how it can have a positive effect on your mental and spiritual well-being. For instance, my morning practice includes a morning run, spiritual reading and a moment of contemplation over a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
When we start our days with this type of regular routine, it nourishes us both body and soul. A morning ritual has a way of calming and centering us, better preparing us for the day ahead. So no matter what challenges life puts in front of us, we can deal with them from a place of greater compassion, humor, kindness and love.
(And for those especially tough days, remember one thing: breathe. When we’re in tense situations, we often shorten our breath. And by engaging in rhythmic breathing, we can calm our mind and soothe our soul.)
I was recently reminded of another tool we can use to maintain our spiritual health—a short evening ritual we can engage in at the close of each day.
If you’re like me, you meditate each morning for a 15 to 20-minute session—and while another meditation session is recommended toward the end of the day, work and family life often get in the way. That’s why I’m happy to share a simple, 5-minute practice you can do each night at bedtime to cap off the day and put your head in a good place before you go to sleep.
The idea comes from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who, while recovering from the sudden death of her husband last year, began a simple practice. Before she went to bed at night, she started writing down three things she did well that day. The list started with small acts like making a cup of tea. She found that by focusing on things she had done well, even if small, she was able to record something positive each day and rebuild her confidence.
Now Sandberg is moving on to the next step. According to a recent story in USA Today, she intends on continuing this practice in the new year, but with a new and important twist:
Instead of recording three things she did well, Sandberg said her resolution was to write down three joyful moments because, to quote Bono, “joy is the ultimate act of defiance”.
What a great idea—appreciating the good that happens each day before it’s forgotten. And it squares with another practice I just heard about via the pastor Steve Wiens of Minnesota. He reminds us of a centuries-old ritual called examen. It involves “noticing God’s presence and discerning God’s direction” each evening by reflecting on the day’s events and asking ourselves two simple questions. To quote Wiens:
At the end of each day, take ten minutes to stop and review the day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence all through it. Then ask two simple questions:
1. When was I most alive today?
2. When was I most drained today?
You can write your answers down in a journal or simply contemplate them. (Wiens recommends “praying through them”.) Either way, the point is to find out what in your life is bringing you closer to God (a happy place) and which actions take you further from God (a negative place). By noticing these patterns, we can then make the necessary adjustments to help ensure our good days outnumber the bad.
By ending the day with the practices suggested by Sandberg or Wiens, we bring our day full circle. With our morning ritual, we ready ourselves for the day ahead. With our nighttime ritual, we reflect on the day’s events and learn to appreciate all that is good and right in our lives. It also helps us better realize our true selves in the process.