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Practicing the Sacred Hours

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What do you do regularly each day to keep your brain centered? Can you imagine stopping every three hours to meditate or sing?

In the old world, the most dedicated mindfulness gurus prayed the hours. Teachers like Tertullian and Benedict of Nursia, who wrote the playbook for monks and nuns still used today, taught their followers to pray when they wake, before sleep, and every three hours in between.

The hours are still used in monasteries today. Monks pray the hours five, sometimes seven times each day. While they sleep for almost six hours starting at 9 p.m., they wake before 3 a.m. and gather in their most sacred place to sing and chant and pray. They come together again every three hours throughout the day to center down and connect with the divine.

The problem for most of us when we hear about this kind of discipline is that we immediately think it's too hard. We think, well, I think, "Okay, well, I barely have enough energy after a scheduled day of meetings to exercise. I forgot to brush my teeth one night, I was so exhausted. How can I possibly make time every three hours to slow down?"

The reality is actually the opposite: We get so tired because we don't slow down.

Your brain has two levels: reaction and focus. Reaction is what keeps you attentive and safe. It is the function of your alarm -- your amygdala -- to make sure any problem you could face you're ready for and will survive. This is the brain pattern most of us use to get through our days.

The problem with reactive living is that it's exhausting.

But we have a choice. What the old sages realized is that stopping, pausing, and being was the secret to a life worth living. Focus happens when we step back and then choose to pay attention to one thing at a time.

We're not talking about adding another thing to your busy life. You already know you're supposed to get up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes every hour. That's all this is.

Get up and stretch. Sit back in your chair and breathe. Call a friend and listen. Read your favorite poem. Maybe even write a poem. Toni Morrison used to write her novels on scraps of paper in between taking care of her babies. We can at least spend a few minutes taking care of ourselves.

The key is to make time regularly, before you're so reactive you melt down.

Centered living means we chose to use the frontal lobes -- our thinking center -- to focus on what we care about. Don't only do everything you think others want you to do to keep up. Think about what you want to do to make each day, even when your to-do list is massive, precious.

If the idea of putting reminders in your phone or your calendar stresses you out, then just plan a few coffee breaks. Or wake up in the morning and read the paper. Or take a walk with the person you love most every day.

But do make time. Otherwise, instead of honoring the hours of your life when you get to savor what matters most, you'll lose hours and days worried and stressed.

Or, build your own regular rituals that refresh you. Like the holy men and women of ancient days, you'll constantly be reminded how sacred life is.

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