What Works for Me, Part 7: Into My Life

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to lay out, in simple terms, the core components and ideas of my spirituality. While it probably seems overly-simplistic to a lot of folks, I’m currently finding that the best things are actually quite simple (though they are seldom “easy”), and their simplicity helps combat my deep tendency to overly-complicate things.

So, to wrap up everything, I’d like to just describe, more or less, how I live it out during a typical day. (Though it can be debated if there’s any such thing as a “typical day”, I’m a creature of habit, so I try very hard to “hard-bake” these activities into my life. I believe that they put me in the best position to make it from day to day, to give me the best chance to have meaningful connections with other people, to contribute to the world in meaningful ways, and to be just a little bit better today than I was yesterday).

Again, not much of this routine is complicated or complex; they are just simple activities and behaviors repeated over time, with a certain degree of intentionality and focus.

MORNING

My morning starts pretty much the same each day: I get up around 4:30AM, I make myself a cup of coffee with my AeroPress, drink about 8 ounces of water, and then go sit down at my desk. I do a very brief reading (takes usually less than 45 seconds), and then I immediately go into a 20 minute session of centering prayer.

If you’re not familiar with centering prayer I would definitely encourage you to investigate it. I struggled with prayer my entire life until I discovered this method, and it has helped me experience God more deeply. Without going into the specifics of the technique, the GOAL of centering prayer is for me to surrender my life and my will over to the power of God as best and as completely as I can.

(And, in case you’re wondering, I have virtually never had a problem with spending 20 minutes in silent prayer before 5AM. I can’t explain it, but somehow I remain alert and focused, even at this early hour.)

After that I do a quick session of journaling (based loosely on the 5-Minute Journal, but a little more streamlined). Basically I write (by hand-I try to stay off of screens entirely during the morning hours) the date, a quote or song lyric that I may have woke up with, 2-3 gratitudes, my intention for the day (usually something like “humility”, or “peace,” or “openness”), and then the absolute priorities for my life, which are currently (1) recovery, (2) family, and (3) vocation.

After that I will review my calendar for the day, do a brief creative writing exercise, and maybe so a small amount of spiritual reading, but then I go out to the kitchen and see if there’s anything I can clean up or put away before anyone else gets up. It’s an easy way that I can get out of my own head, and begin to serve others at an early part of my day.

EVENING

To be honest, I have always struggled to maintain a SET and established “reset” time in the afternoon and evening. I’m making progress, but I still have a ways to go in getting the habit and routine cemented into my life. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that these “PM Resets” are absolutely critical for me in my life every day, so I am striving to implement an afternoon session of Centering Prayer—or at least a period of intentional silence—around 4 or 4:30 every day, and then also an end of day reflection/evaluation (sometimes called an “Examen” in other faith traditions).

Towards the end of my day (but ideally before I get in bed), I just constructively review my day. I take a few deep breaths, and with a posture of gratitude and acceptance, I run through everything I did throughout the day, including the people I met, the places I went and the things I did, but ALSO my emotional reactions and even my intentions. I make little notes in my journal as I go of anything that stands out, both bad and—critically for me—good.

I also ask myself a few basic questions:

  • Was I kind and loving to everyone?
  • Was I mindful of others, and of how I could serve them?
  • Was I self-centered?
  • Was I focused on myself?
  • Do I owe an apology to anyone? (If I do, I try to write that down and address the situation as soon as I can the next day, if not sooner.)

Where I have struggled, I ask God to help me do better. Where I have managed to be reasonably loving and others-centered, I express gratitude.

It’s important for me to not do this in such a way that triggers any shame. Instead, what I am looking for is an HONEST evaluation—good and bad—of my existence during my day, and then a tangible action (asking God to help me do better, or making an apology, or celebrating, etc.)

After this, I am usually able to go to bed with a clear conscience and a sense that I have “sealed this day”, and can rest and prepare for the next one.

THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Between my set times of prayer and reflection, I seek to monitor myself as I move through my day. When I am wrong, I simply admit it (QUICKLY), apologize if necessary, and move on.

(NOTE: Without fail I encounter people and situationswho are frustrating to me. When I can, I need to remember that I cannot control others’ behavior and reactions. I CAN ONLY CONTROL MYSELF, so it’s up to me to monitor ME, not them. On one hand, this is incredibly difficult to do, because I have to release my desire to control others’ behavior. On the other hand, this is incredibly liberating, because it means that I always have SOMETHING that I can do to “deal with” any situation.)

So on the whole, this is what works for me. It’s simple, it’s easy, and anyone can do it. Not everyone does, but that’s okay. It’s saving ME, and I hear rumors from family and friends that it ACTUALLY may be working—that I really am, somehow, becoming slightly less self-centered, slightly less angry, slightly less fearful, and more compassionate, more gentle, more kind.

And I will take that.