One of the challenges in today’s world is finding the time to meditate, finding the time to pray, finding the time to focus. In a world where we are increasingly connected to the world around us by our phones, connected to the internet and the constant threat of distraction from email, in busy jobs that eat our focus and time, it can seem difficult to set aside time to actually practice.
Some of the resources on dealing with this problem indicate this is a matter of priority. That it isn’t a matter of
not having time it is more of a matter of not having prioritized it. This is useful advice in a lot of areas, but I do not believe it applies specifically to these topics, since they are the sort of thing that it is generally doable to integrate into your daily routine as part of what you are already doing.
Saying a structured prayer generally take less than thirty seconds, sometimes a lot less (my most common regular prayer takes a little under 15 seconds). The key is not
making time for it, but placing set markers in your day that remind you to pray. That, essentially, trigger the reminder. Some examples:
- Praying before a meal
- Praying before brushing one’s teeth (for a morning/evening prayer)
- Praying after sitting down at your computer at work (for a morning prayer)
- Praying when turning on your alarm (for an evening prayer)
Basically just set a trigger in your life that you always recognize as a trigger to pray and come up with a short, easily-remembered prayer for that time. Then just clear your mind, set yourself in a
prayerful state, and recite the prayer at the appropriate time before continuing with what you are doing.
After you have picked a trigger, it is just a matter of conditioning yourself so that when the trigger happens you know to pray.
This isn’t a massive undertaking: we aren’t talking about a rosary or a 40 bead set of prayer beads, but it is something simple, basic, and, in terms of disciplining the mind and taking advantage of structured prayer, very powerful.
A lot of people seem to think of meditation as something you set aside time for–generally at least half an hour–and that it involves intense focus in either shutting down your thoughts or focusing in minute detail on one object or mantra. Really, meditation does not need to be that much of an ordeal: mindfulness techniques such as those employed by the Buddhist vipassana practices are just about being aware. As the koan goes on how one meditates when it is very hot or very cold:
Hot Buddha, Cold Buddha: if you are hot and sweaty, you meditate by experiencing what it is like to be hot and sweaty. If you are cold and shivering, you meditate on what it is like to be cold and shivering. The distraction is part of the meditation, because you observe what your mind and body do.
Rather than setting aside time, it is better to set aside an activity. If you walk a few blocks to get lunch, meditate while walking. If you eat your lunch alone, meditate while eating. You can practice mindfulness while driving, you could also practice it while you brush your teeth. Even less so than before: this is less about setting aside time, and more about integrating it into the activities you already engage in. I like to spend a few minutes on the light rail just sitting there experiencing what it is like to sit there.
It doesn’t need to be long: Every little bit counts. The book Zen Heart recommends that when your emotions well up or you throw yourself into a coping mechanism you spend just three breaths just experiencing whatever it is you are feeling before getting back to what you were doing. Just three breaths, and then you get back to it.
In today’s increasingly busy world it is easy to tell ourselves that we don’t have time and, in truth, many things may simply not be priorities for us at this point in our lives. Yet even at our busiest there always are some things we can do to keep up our spiritual practice. In these cases, it isn’t a matter of priority or of not having time, it is simply a matter of using the time we have productively.