The world is busy. Long to-do lists, endless extracurricular activities, and plenty of prime-time television abound. And yet, when there’s much to do, value still abides in zipping our lips and just being for awhile. Or so says Janet Corso, a Spiritual Director at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center and a Dominican Sister of Hope Associate.
According to Ms. Corso, many people express a strong need for quiet reflection and inner peace, but they don’t know how to find it.
“People’s lives are extremely busy,” Ms. Corso says. “They’re overwhelmed; they feel they don’t have time for their spirituality. They don’t know how to live busy lives yet incorporate being a spiritual person.”
The answer might be simpler than we think.
Ms. Corso is a certified spiritual director who has spent years honing contemplation and spiritual guidance for herself and others. However, she notes that those of us with no training can achieve peace, too. Below, Ms. Corso lists five steps to quieting down and embracing contemplation both momentarily and for the long-term.
1. Be quiet.
Contemplation might seem like a daunting task to undertake, but, according to Ms. Corso, the first step to becoming more contemplative is befriending silence and solitude. While silence is useful for slowing down and calming down, it’s also imperative in learning to listen to yourself, to God, and to others.
“I think the more contemplative you are, the more you’re willing to listen to the movements of God,” Ms. Corso says. “To be contemplative means you have to befriend stillness and silence. It’s a path to a deeper relationship to God, to be able to listen.”
It’s a short commitment that can have bountiful benefits. Try to take a few moments in a calm environment and commit to not speaking. If thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them and dismiss them. Focus on your breath, or, perhaps, a sentiment or a word. Be patient with yourself. When the voice inside your head quiets down a bit –even momentarily– you might find yourself listening in a whole new way.
Ms. Corso concedes that, although many people are initially intimidated by silence, people often admit to being surprised by how much they unconsciously longed for it.
You might be surprised, too. The first step is the silence itself.
2. Take a break.
We’ve written before about how important it is to get in touch with nature. Whether it’s a walk outside, an intentional listen to a song on Youtube, or taking a moment to smell a windowsill plant, getting your mind off of your surrounding environment is crucial to reaching within. Find a space that is relaxing to you –perhaps a beautiful view or an exquisite piece of music– and allow yourself time and solitude in it. (Mariandale retreats are great for this, if you have an entire day, weekend, or even a week!)
In addition to the spiritual helpfulness of removing yourself from everyday life, taking a break bears practical pros, too. If you’re able to fulfill yourself and your own needs, you can pour more of yourself into your everyday work.
3. Go solo.
Groups can be helpful for growing spiritually: just ask Ms. Corso who spends hours each week walking with others on their spiritual journeys. While others can be a solid source of support and learning, your spiritual journey is ultimately your own. Taking some time to work on it alone is important; supplementing the solo time with group sessions might be a worthy follow-up.
4. Be intentional.
Once you’ve got the quiet down, a next step is being mindful of the world around you. Luckily, this can be practiced while life is lived.
“Contemplation is not something extra to have to do, but a way of approaching life,” Ms. Corso says. “It’s possible to still go to the crazy meetings back to back to back, but to do it in a contemplative way.”
What did you get out of the meeting? Who do you want to be in it? How is this part of your day your ministry? Finding the joy, gratitude, and ministry in the small bits of each day can lead to an intentionality that infuses our lives with greater purpose. As Ms. Corso stresses, being contemplative isn’t about putting life on hold, it’s about approaching life with a different mindset.
5. Switch it up
When it comes to being contemplative, there’s no one right way to do it. The secret to find what works for you.
“There are a lot of different contemplative practices, and I encourage people to go with the practices that suit their needs and personality,” Ms. Corso explains. “There isn’t one particular path.”
Where specific techniques are concerned, the path to contemplation knows no boundaries. Our sisters find God in an exchange at the grocery store and in guided walks along the Hudson River at Mariandale. Everything from Christian prayer to mindful tai chi can help to foster contemplation; it’s really about what is most comfortable for the individual.
After all, as Ms. Corso reiterates, contemplation isn’t about learning techniques; it’s about changing a mindset.
“I’m not about teaching techniques, I’m about introducing a new way of being,” Ms. Corso says. “When contemplation becomes part of the fabric of who you are, then it’s a whole different story.”
Indeed, setting aside time to be contemplative can make us better participants in all areas of our lives. Go ahead and spend time in quiet and being intentional today. You might find that the result is a “whole different story,” beautifully.