There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.Wendell Berry
We are human. We forget, fall off, get distracted, and are pulled off our plans. Ritual brings us back, helps sets the stage, readies us to sit down and focus. Candles, incense, closing a door, a few deep breaths, kneeling in prayer: these rituals tell us we are about to have an experience and maybe even help us get into the spirit.
Ritual is a means of orienting ourselves. Think of Pavlov’s dog: the bell rings consistently before he is fed. Soon enough, he hears the bell and his digestive juices start flowing, his mind and body ready for what comes next.
People also honor landmark events and anniversaries with regular observance and ritual. Time-honored traditions are put in place because they are tried and true in helping us remember what we are honoring. Here, too, the act or rite is not just the essence but the means to an end.
It is easy to write off many spiritual rituals as inane. I try to remind myself when I’m judging a spiritual practice (as rote, or thoughtless, or whatever) that that is essentially the idea: to get out of our thoughts and into the center of our beings.
Do you have to recite 108 prayers of the rosary or mantras with mala beads? No (but maybe check it out and you will find out why that number sticks around!). If that doesn’t work for you, try another way.
In the course of the next 40+ days you will see that there are tons of different times, places, and practices that work for each of us. As my teacher Elesa says, “Be in the classroom of your life.” Observe what resonates and what doesn’t. Honor your instincts. If mornings work well for you, then stick to mornings. Late night, afternoon siesta, whatever works: just set aside some time each day to be mindful. You don’t need a cathedral with an altar, but a particular place where you have privacy at a particular time of day works best. I’ve got unruly dogs and teenagers, so I know it’s not easy. But it’s possible. I have two spots: the third floor in my home and a place in my bedroom next to the bed. I’ve never been a morning person but middle age has set in and now I’m up with the birds. I’ve come to love it.
“Keep it as simple as possible,” advises my friend Mark Gerow, an instructor and coach who works with people with addiction and PTSD. Wellness guru Matt Dewar reminds, “We have to show up and do the work. Talking about water does not quench your thirst.” Be gentle and realistic with yourself and know that consistency will make it easier.
And here’s the truth: my daily routine does change. Some days are better than others. I just need to keep practicing, even when I don’t feel like it. Especially then. Mornings have become fairly consistent. Here’s how I start:
- I wake to my phone alarm and immediately read my favorite daily inspiration from Fred Buechner, which comes to my inbox at 6AM sharp. Buechner is a Presbyterian minister and a gifted writer. His messages are profound and touch my heart. It’s an amazing way to start my day. Check him out here.
- On Mondays, I read Jay Sidebotham’s “Monday Matters.” (They are NOT mundane, Jay!
- Then, I meditate in some way: some movement on the floor of my bedroom or an audio guided meditation. (Depends how cold it is!) Then I sit for a few minutes. (Sometimes I talk myself into “sitting” in bed, which doesn’t work quite as well.) I incorporate other practices throughout the day, but this is “my routine.”
- I highly recommend headphones as the best way to listen to these meditations. I do this in bed a lot. (I sleep poorly. The technology is both a contributor and a savior when I am sleepless.)
- I’ve linked my favorite meditation app below – check it out!
- I keep a journal next to my bed. I recommend writing down thoughts for each day. Noticing experiences and gratitudes will enhance your 40 days. (A composition notebook from the drug store is my favorite journal.) We write so we know what we think.
So, get headphones and a journal and start to establish a time and place to be mindful. You can do this for 40 days.
Check out, Insight Timer, my favorite meditation app. It has thousands of meditations, timers, and beautiful sounds to choose from. I love Sarah Blondin. Listen below.
Please share your thoughts, preferences, suggestions, comments.