I saw an Instagram reel the other day by a creator who was talking about how hard he found it to create and maintain habits such as exercising at the same time every day, keeping up a mindfulness practice, healthy meal prep, and so on. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t make the habit stick and the experience was always negative and resulted in anxiety and shame. He went on to say that it was more helpful for him to think about setting up rhythms to his life where he incorporated what he wanted to do, but it wasn’t on a fixed schedule. He said he asks himself what rhythms he needs to live a healthy and happy life and focuses on that.
I wish I’d saved the reel because I’d link to it here and watch it again myself. So much of what he was saying resonated for me in that I struggle to create habits, particularly around prayer and spiritual connection. I just can’t seem to get it to stick, and I’ve started and “failed” so many times I’ve just given up. I’ve read books on contemplative prayer and taken classes and know that the “ideal” is 20 minutes twice a day. But I’d be lying if I can ever stick to it for longer than a couple of days. Every time the result is that I beat up on myself for not doing it, get frustrated and end up stressed.
Which, really, is not a great foundation for a spiritual life.
Rhythms, though, that I can get behind, and I’ve been trying it out. For me, I can get so preoccupied with my day-to-day tasks and worries I forget to stop and breathe. My mind whirls and I not only lose my perspective, I lose my connection to the Divine. I know that God doesn’t go away. That Presence is always there, just waiting for me to snap out of it and say “Oh, hello, I forgot about you for a minute.” I touch that silence for just a moment, and I remember.
An image that comes to mind when I’m all stressed out and forgetting to tend to my spiritual self is that I’ve squeezed out God. I’m like a sponge in a clenched fist that yearns to expand and drink in the water all around, if only those pesky fingers would loosen up for a moment. God is there, always, I just need to remind myself to unclench.
I’m trying to build more loosening up and soaking in moments throughout my day. That’s the rhythm, the beat, that I’m aiming for. It’s the remembering that’s tricky, so I’m experimenting with triggers for my brain to take that pause. My spiritual director had an idea that when I drive I could use stopping at intersections as a cue to repeat to myself “Be still, and know that I am God.” I’ve tried that. I remember at about half the intersections, but it’s a start and I’m keeping the beat. I’ve also been pausing when I walk into another room, even briefly, to pause and take that blessed beat. Again, it’s a work in progress. But, I find that it’s so helpful to have the physical reminders. And, if I’m not 100 percent remembering, I don’t seem to be as hard on myself as if I miss a 20-minute meditation.
Longer silences are, of course, also something I’d like to incorporate. For now, though, I’m taking comfort in these new beats to my spiritual life. I am feeling closer to the Divine, more connected. We chat a little more regularly. It’s nice, and something I will continue. God will, of course, just continue to hang out all around me waiting for that pause.
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a Victoria-based writer, poet and communications professional. He holds an M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He blogs at www.dearpopefrancis.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking