I just wrote about the importance of being fully present in your life and tuned in to each moment of each day. But I realize that for those of us with kids, a stressful job or even an easily distracted mind, that may be easier said than done.
The good news: there are a few easy ways to calm your mind and stay centered and present throughout the day. The key, like anything else you want to be good at in life, is preparation and practice. That starts with instituting a morning spiritual routine and making it part of your regular schedule.
Start Getting Centered the Moment You Wake Up.
Your routine should start upon awakening and be as integral a part of your morning 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). Best of all, your routine can be tailored to the activities that work best for you.
Here are seven things I do each morning that help me stay centered throughout the day. They may also help you, starting with two activities related to the body:
- Stretch yourself out. I’ve reached the point in my life where I wake up stiff and sore each morning. So as soon as I get up, I hit the floor and s-t-r-e-t-c-h my arms, my back, my legs. After all, it’s hard to keep the mind clear when the body aches.
- Get moving. Most mornings, I go on a brain-cleansing 3-mile run. You may prefer to walk, bike or swim. For me, exercising the body has a way of calming the mind and has the added benefit of helping you feel good about yourself.
- Read spiritual literature. During my bus commute, I strive to read something that will inspire or motivate me from philosophy blogs to religious texts. On days I drive to work, I rely on uplifting podcasts.
- Say a prayer of gratitude. I give thanks for everyone and everything I am grateful for each and every day. As John Templeton says, when we give thanks daily, even more to be thankful for seems to come our way.
- Meditate. For 10-15 minutes daily, especially important on the days I don’t run. As I’ve said before, meditation is not as difficult as you might think.
Because I know that some of you will say meditation doesn’t work for you, I’m adding point six in big, bold type.
Focus on the breath and just be still.
You say you’ve tried to meditate and you can’t keep your monkey mind still? Then I suggest engaging in rhythmic breathing. This can be done throughout the work day, even if it means a quick retreat to a bathroom stall at the office. Stop what you’re doing and spend a few moments focusing on your breath, taking deep breaths in-pause-out, in-pause-out.
- Try Centering Prayer.
Centering prayer is essentially a prayer without words, or more accurately a prayer with a single word. With an assist from David Frenette and his book The Path of Centering Prayer, here’s a simple six-point guide.
- Choose a one- or two-syllable word such as God, peace, love, stillness or faith. (I sometimes cheat and use a sentence, like this mantra from Huston Smith: “God you are so good to me,” repeated over and over.)
- 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.
Frenette tells us we can also engage in centering prayer without any words, to “let go of the life preserver and just float.” Which leads me to one of my favorite soul-enriching activities: enjoying a cup of coffee in the early morning hours in quiet contemplation.
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 in the early morning hours, quieting the mind and becoming totally immersed in the moment as you sip your coffee.
Sipping. Centering. Feeling a divine presence. You’ll feel better prepared for the day ahead because of it. You’ll also find that your own calmness can be contagious to those around you.