By the time this column reaches you, Thanksgiving will be over, and we’ll be looking ahead to the winter holidays. Some of us will be looking ahead with joy, while others may have a somewhat different relationship to this time of year. What I know to be true is that however we relate to these winter holidays, this can be a complicated time of year for many of us. And so, echoing the advice of spiritual teachers throughout the ages, I’d like to invite you to join me in stepping up your spiritual practice, and making a commitment to practice every day for the next 40 days.
In many traditions, 40 days of practice is sort of a “magic number,” and in my life, I know that I’ve found 40 day practice commitments to be transformative in ways that often took me by surprise. The first time I did a 40 day commitment, it was a shared commitment with my wife to do a short yoga practice together every day. We knew that we needed to put more energy into our spiritual life, and figured that working together, we’d have a better chance of keeping a commitment that had felt elusive to us separately. Turns out it “worked.” Not only did we keep the commitment and deepen our own spiritual lives, but we also found that the shared practice created a deeper connection in our relationship.
Since then, I’ve had a more regular spiritual practice, and haven’t always needed the discipline of a 40 day commitment, yet still find it helpful to make a 40 day (or longer) commitment when I know I’ll be entering a period of time during which I want to be more centered, more connected to those around me, and more able to bring my “best self” to my work and the people around me. The commitment becomes a way of reminding myself that how I am in the world is as important, if not more important, than what I do in the world.
So, as we turn toward the month of December and the year’s end, I’d like to invite you to join me in a practice commitment. 40 days, or more (or less!) – choose a time period that works for you. Write it down on your calendar so you’re accountable to it. Tell someone else so you’re even more accountable to it. Tell me if you want!
Remember also that your practice doesn’t need to be long to be meaningful. Over the past 15 years, my practice has shifted from a regular 30 minute meditation session to a 3-5 minute mindful movement practice. Each has its benefits. Whatever you choose to practice, choose one thing and stick with it, at least for these 40 days. And then, having chosen your practice and time period, let it be. Try for the same time every day (mornings are often best), but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. Similarly, if you miss a day, be easy on yourself and begin again tomorrow. In other words, have fun with it. See what happens, and then come tell me about it in January!
See you at church!