A while back at a party, my bud Brad and I were talking about prayer — and more specifically, how we used to do a lot of it, and how we sort of miss it. (I realize this sounds like a heady conversation, but at this party was also drunken throwing of ninja stars into a wood board, so it really hit all points.)
Brad was raised religious, and I was not, but when we were young, I think we both found some solace in the pattern and reflection of daily prayer. I don’t think either of us used prayer for magical thinking (aka, “Dear God, please give me a pony, if I pray hard enough I know you’ll give me a pony!”) but even at a young age were using it for thinking about our day and what we wanted out of the next. (A hoot and half as kids, we must have been.)
Neither of us pray anymore, but I realized recently I missed that daily opportunity for self-reflection — thinking about the good of the day, the lows, and what I wanted more out of the next. So, based on a Jesuit practice called the Daily Examen, I came up with what I refer to as my recipe for self-reflection, or perhaps you could refer to it as secular prayer. I call it a recipe because I think of it as a sandwich.
Let me explain.
A sandwich has two pieces of bread. (I, as you can see, am a CULINARY GENIUS.) Two essential pieces that bookend whatever is inside. And the beauty of a sandwich, of course, is that you can put whatever you want between those two pieces of bread. Cheese? Mayo? Hell yeah. Slice of bacon, a tomato, some turkey? Go to town.
So my reflection recipe’s two essential pieces — the “bread” of the recipe — are 1. gratitude for three items, and 2. one thing I am really looking forward to happening in the next 24 hours.
I don’t think I need to explain the power of a gratitude practice to any of you; it’s well documented. The looking ahead to one bright spot is a concept I really liked from the book Make Time, which talks about how each day, it’s important to choose what they call a “highlight.” (You can read a lot more about their concept here.) As the authors write, “Your Highlight gives each day a focal point. Research shows that the way you experience your days is not determined primarily by what happens to you. In fact, you create your own reality by choosing what you pay attention to. This might seem obvious, but we think it’s a big deal: You can design your time by choosing where you direct your attention. And your daily Highlight is the target of that attention.”
Then what goes in between? Well, whatever you need. Right now I’m working on being kinder to myself, so after I reflect on my items of gratitude, I write down a thing I like about myself, and a thing I did that day that I was proud of. Then I pick the highlight for the next day.
But say you were working on kindness towards your body. You could write down an appreciation of a feature of yours. Or say you wanted to develop more patience. You could write out a situation where you could have been more patient, or an upcoming scenario where you need to prepare yourself to draw on your patience. Etc etc and so on. The middle of the sandwich can be whatever you want. For brevity’s sake, I recommend keeping it to 2–3 items. Otherwise, all the stuff, much like in a sandwich, can sort of start to get squished together and be hard to taste distinctly.
An much like a delicious sandwich, you can make it in the evening or the morning. The only thing I think is important is to write it out. So take a beat for five minutes. Write down your gratitude. Write down the inner ingredients of your sandwich, whatever they may be. Then write down your highlight for the coming day.
Voila. A sandwich for the soul. (Think I can get a book deal based on that concept, huh?)