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How to slow down and get the most out of everything you do

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This wisdom from a 16th-century priest is especially relevant today.

Sometimes I look at my calendar and shudder. It’s full of overlapping appointments and double bookings. My heart-rate goes up just glancing at it, but life goes on and the schedule remains full whether I like it or not. It’s very easy to claim that as we approach the holiday season we need to slow down, spend time in silence and prayer, and make time for leisure. We would all love to be able to do that and, sure, we could probably improve some by making different choices about how we use our time. But we still can’t quit our jobs, stop taking our children to soccer practice, quit doing the laundry and grocery shopping, and go off to a monastery (or Bermuda) on a permanent retreat.

I’m a priest, and it may surprise you to learn that we often fall into over-scheduling and being so busy that we don’t have quality time for prayer. St. Charles Borromeo, who was a bishop in 16th-century Italy, describes the complaints he was hearing about it: “Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church … a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God.”

If even priests can’t escape the black hole of busyness, what hope is there? How can we slow down and appreciate each moment before it flies by?

Charles has good, realistic advice, which I appreciate because it doesn’t rely on simply cutting away at your calendar. The basic idea is fairly simple: As you prepare for each day, think about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and about every part of your day as a spiritual activity. Meditation, says Charles, is how we “see” with our hearts, and the more we thoughtfully live in each moment, the more benefits we receive.

Here is some of his practical advice for making meditation a part of daily life.

Spend part of each day in quiet

This may seem like an impossibility because we’ve already admitted that we don’t have extra time in our regular schedule. Charles is aware of this, though, and says that although spending time in a quiet church is ideal, there are plenty of other options. Anyone “may make his meditation at home or in the fields; he may even make it on the road, or at work …” We all have time in the morning when we’re getting ready or in the car during a commute; maybe that would be a good time to turn the television or radio off and have some quiet to think about the day? Charles says that any time given to meditation is better than none, so don’t feel like the time you have available isn’t enough to get started.

Plan ahead

If our schedules rule our lives, we may as well turn that to our advantage. Make a deliberate effort to put meditation time on the calendar. Charles recommends the morning if possible because it helps throughout the whole day. If the time you typically use to commute is suddenly earmarked as “quiet time,” it can be just the little bit of motivation that’s needed. The other benefit of scheduling time for meditation is that it forces us to do it when we don’t feel like it because we’re stressed or distracted – which is precisely the best time for it.

Don’t leave any part of your life out

Meditation might involve reading a spiritual book, praying a Rosary, or the like, but it doesn’t have to be overtly religious. Charles encourages us to consider each activity we have planned for the day whether it be work, a hobby, or hanging with family and friends. Take time to think about what you do and why you do it. He lists a few benefits of doing so: “The advantages of meditation consist not only, nor indeed so much, in dwelling seriously on divine truths as in exciting the affections, in praying, and resolving: These are the three fruits of meditation.”

What he means by this is that meditation can help with your prayer life, but it also helps you emotionally and in forming wise decisions. He also mentions that it can help form a “good resolution.” For me, this has been particularly true when I know I’m going to be in the presence of someone I find hard to get along with. I meditate on it in the morning and prepare myself ahead of time to be kind and patient. Otherwise, the moment takes me by surprise and I fall into bad habits.

By practicing his advice, St. Charles Borromeo says, every aspect of our lives becomes a “work of love.” This is true no matter how busy our calendar remains. You don’t need to cut parts of your life away. Instead slow down, practice mindfulness, and see how beautiful each moment of life can be.

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