This morning I read about an article in which a failing San Francisco middle school implemented a 10 minute quiet time twice a day. The results have been astounding. For just a few highlights, a school mired by fights and gun violence dropped their number of suspension by 45% in the first year of implementation. After four years the school's attendance is at 98% and the kids now even rank among the happiest in the school system. You can read the full article here. When I read that article, a lightbulb went off. This story gives concrete evidence as to why contemplation and the inner life matter. The inner life of a human being is sacred, powerful, beautiful. Yet, in western culture, the traditional supports for this inner life-the Christian church-have gone through radical deconstruction since the late 1800s. This is not a pro or con argument about religion. It is just observation about what has happened historically to the state of the spiritual in daily Western public life. Our usual collective agreed upon spiritual anchors are gone. In the United States, our civil agreed upon anchors also seem to be fraying. To our American culture at large, this inner life has become invisible, fractured, divided. You are either Christian or atheist, scientist, non-scientist, Democrat or Republican, rural or urban, or just so filled with anxiety and frustration about your daily life that you don't care about this discussion beyond surviving. PTSD, ADHD, racism, homelessness, hunger, a heroin epidemic, gun violence, cancer, suicide, financial insecurity, deportations, terrorism...to name a few. These problems loom large and weave into the very real and painful experiences of many individuals residing within America. Our political process is as divided and fractured as our own attentions and our own hearts. And so this morning, when I read about such a simple solution to these seemingly intractable and unsolvable human tragedies that hit the youngest among our citizenry, I was moved to hear a solution centered around the simple act of giving space and time to grow the inner life. Grow your inner life in just 20 minutes a day. It sounds like an infomercial, until you look at the results. And those results don't take into consideration what a profound and radical step it is to empower young people to face and transform the most frightening problems facing their daily lives by being still. This is the power of attending to the inner life. It is our birth right, and considering the state of the planet right now, it is our radical obligation to grow this inner life, to expand our ideas of what religion and spirituality mean. The box in which God/non-God is so often squished into no longer fits. We live on a spinning planet in a vast solar system. We are now capable of connecting to each and every being on this planet and our actions effect not only our local life, but planet earth. By creating space to attend to each of our inner lives, through meditation, prayer, beauty, stillness and quiet, awareness grows. The ability to transform individual lives grows. An understanding of an individual's relation to the whole grows. Our ability to relate to one another grows. And the power of creating a space to do this in which it is not linked to any one dogmatic point of view, but allows instead for a diverse ecosystem of faiths and non-faiths to exist in the simple act of being quiet and being still for ten minutes, two times a day. This is the power of contemplation. This is the power of being still, even for only ten minutes, twice a day.
A Contemplative Act