One of the trickiest things about contemplative practice is the strict rhythm it demands. This is one of the first thing that turns someone off to the practice, even if they are enthused about the real benefits of emotional balance, acceptance, and inner growth. It takes a commitment.
The minimum in most traditions is at least 20 minutes a session at least once, but usually two sessions a day, often first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. But so often, with the way our lives are structured, even a strong commitment doesn’t make it happen.
One of the more overlooked parts of the contemplative traditions is the physical aspect of it. Most contemplative practices involve sitting quietly for 20 minutes a day at least, and then expanding from there.
Most involve specific methods, maybe a sacred word to return to rest in the presence of God, like in Centering Prayer, focusing on the breath in Vipassana, repeating a self-inquiry mantra like “Who am I?” in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi, and so on.
Growing up, my parents seemed to throw around the word joy a lot. So did some of the church communities I was a part of. At some point the idea lost its luster, like something parents try to pass on to kids to hold on to their innocence a little while longer.
The older I got the more joy seemed an emotion relegated to Hallmark cards and nurseries. For a time, unless a sermon or movie or TV show acknowledged the unbearable tragedy at the heart of existence, it just rang hollow.
When my son was about two years old, he’d sit in the back seat and yelp with joy at each new kind of truck we’d pass. “(Gasp) Mixer truck! Fire truck! Tow truck! Cargo truck!” he’d shout as we drove down the street.
What struck both my wife and I at the time is how we didn’t even realize how many trucks we’d been passing most of the time before he started calling them out. “Fuel truck! Backhoe loader!”