September 29, 2015

How Meditation Changed My Life

By J. Dana Trent
 
Photo of J. Dana Trent by Jim Harris

Photo of J. Dana Trent by Jim Harris

In Saffron Cross, I wrote about my husband’s morning devotional practice, a routine stemming from his service as a Hindu monk and priest.

It wasn’t until I met Fred that I began to discern what such a morning contemplative practice might look like for me. But in the past, when I had tried to keep a daily prayer or meditation practice, I quickly let it slide to the bottom of my to-do list. Even after five years of being married to someone with an intense morning spiritual discipline, first-thing contemplation doesn’t come easy for me.

And, until recently, I spent my first moments awake checking social media, e-mail, and firing my brain into a frenzy of the day’s anxieties – all before I rolled out of bed.

At breakfast, instead of turning to more thoughtful content, I’d take in another dose of net, checking People.com or catching up on The Young and the Restless spoilers. Why meditate when you can drool over Channing Tatum’s abs?

After I clogged my brain with mush, I’d multitask my way through a poorly prioritized list the remainder of the day. E-mails popped up, Twitter pinged, and I found myself in a tizzy for the next 12 hours, like a puppy tempted with sticks.

At bedtime I was exhausted and frustrated. What did I accomplish today that actually felt like living? How had I connected with God? How did my life get to be this full, and yet so unfulfilling?

In his recent interview with Krista Tippet on The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer helps us uncover one of the culprits of today’s contemplative-averse culture:

“What’s different today, I think, is that so many of us have more and more information, and less and less time and space to make sense of it. We have more and more ‘time-saving’ devices, yet less and less time, it seems. We can make better and better contact with people across the globe, but in the same breath, it sometimes feels, we lose contact with ourselves.” (Pico Iyer, “We Are Living at a Post-Human Pace)

Prior to implementing a recent reprioritization of my day, I absorbed far more information than was useful, convincing myself that stimulating my brain first thing was better than making space to ponder the big stuff. As a result, my devotional life gathered dust, and my spiritual well-being withered.

Then two things happened:

First, Fred and I accepted an invitation to teach three sessions on the practice of contemplative prayer and meditation for The Upper Room’s spirituality conference SOULfeast: Renew Your People. I knew that if I was going to teach others how to contemplation a priority, I had better do it myself.

Second, Lent 2015 arrived, and Fred and I needed a 40-day inspiration to rejoin Jesus in the wilderness. We opted for tech-free Sundays, a throwback to the prehistoric age known as the pre-Internet era. We committed to completely unplug ourselves—beginning every Sunday morning—for more devotional time.

Here’s what happened: I began to feel a shift. Starting the day with spirituality helped me feel more connected to myself and God. I had a better sense of the bigger picture of my purpose, and how to rightly order my days, so much that the spirit of stillness and calm remains with me.

But it wasn’t easy. I’d try, then fail, then try again. By the conclusion of Lent, I’d landed on three tricks to help me stick with my habit.

  1. I scheduled it. Each day, I actually blocked out my quiet time for first thing in the morning. This made it a priority—even if I only had a few minutes to pray or sit in silence using the Calm.com app.
  2. I didn’t check my phone as soon as I woke up. Instead of checking social media before I was even out from under the covers, I got up, made my breakfast, sat down to read The Upper Room daily devotional guide, To: You; Love, God, pray, and write in my journal.
  3. I kept the momentum going. I stuck with the contemplative theme, even during breaks in my day. Instead of catching up on the latest clips from The Young & Restless, I spent 10 or 20 minutes listening to spiritual podcasts like Krista Tippet’s On Being.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

Beginning the day this way is not something reserved for monks. Everyone needs a quiet time practice. We only have to say no! to the forces that tempt us from solitude.

I’m still a fledgling on this early morning meditation journey, but I’m willing to keep trying—an intention that carries me much further than any salacious Internet news did.

Don’t yet have a practice? Check out The Upper Room daily devotional guide, visit Calm.com, or try Do Nothing for Two Minutes. Take time to just be with God. Notice your breath. Slow down your heart rate. Hold a loved one in your heart. Repeat a sacred piece of scripture. By doing this, your day will be shaped by solitude, love, compassion, and peace.


 

Dana Trent

Dana Trent

The Rev. J. Dana Trent is an ordained minister and graduate of Duke Divinity School. Her first book, the award-winning Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, was published by Fresh Air Books, an imprint of Upper Room Books. Dana is married to Fred Eaker, a practicing Hindu, and they support each other’s faith in their marriage. Dana blogs at http://jdanatrent.com/.

This article originally appeared on Dana’s blog on July 4, 2015 as “How a ‘Busy’ Woman Made Time for Contemplation.”

Saffron Cross is celebrating its 2nd birthday! Buy the book between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, 2015 and save 30% on the paperback or get an e-book (available in EPUB and Kindle formats) for only $2.99. Just enter the code HBSCOCT2 when you place your order!

 

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