Updated on 09.08.10

Meditation, Prayer, and Personal Finance

Trent Hamm

Once or twice a day, I go into my bedroom, turn down the lights, lay on the bed, and look up at the ceiling. I start off by reflecting on a small handful of things that have really brought me significant joy in the past few days. After a few minutes of that, I focus entirely on emptying my mind for a while, and once that’s done, I just drift without anything in my mind. Sometimes thoughts drift in and out of my head – sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I doze off for a bit – other times, I don’t.

After about twenty minutes of concentrated mental relaxation, I almost always feel refreshed and much more able to tackle whatever is on the table in front of me, whether it’s a household task, some work to be done, some bills to be paid, or anything else. I get that stuff done faster and better than I ever would have done before the meditation.

Call it meditation or prayer or whatever you wish – it flat-out works.

When I first started doing this, I seemed like it would be an utter waste of a good twenty minutes. I started trying it at the urging of my pastor at the time, who told me to try to take some time every day to pray and to let God speak to me. I didn’t really have any idea what that even meant, so I tried mostly just spending some time reflecting on what was going on in my life in a positive way. I tried to spend fifteen minutes a day just reflecting on the good in my life.

It didn’t really work.

Instead, I started reading books on prayer and meditation to see what others had discovered. What I seemed to find, time and time again, is that people found success in just letting their mind drift and seeing what answers were revealed to them. This pops up over and over again in all sorts of religious and other writings.

What I’ve found is that an empty mind is a real clarifier. Those twenty minutes spent letting my mind be as empty as I can make it do more for my day than anything else I do.

That time seems to fill my mind with a great deal of motivation and, often, with solutions to the problems I’m immediately facing.

I could attribute it to God speaking to me subtly. I could attribute it to my subconsciousness. I could attribute it to the simple benefit of rest. I’m not going to claim that I have any sort of proof as to why it works, and I’m not going to enter into a metaphysical discussion about it.

I can only say that it really does work.

I’m going to challenge you to try this, just once, and see if it actually works for you even half as well as it works for me. If it does, you’ll find that it’s really a useful addition to your life, whether you attribute it to a religious or spiritual cause or to a psychological or physical cause.

Sometime in the next few days, when you’re feeling really stressed out, go into a room that doesn’t have a lot of distracting elements. If it’s at work, you can even use a bathroom stall if you want.

Sit down and get as comfortable as you can. Then spend a couple of minutes thinking about the good things in your life. What in your life makes you happy? Whatever that is, think about it for a bit – say, two or three minutes.

Then try to clear your mind. Try to think about nothing at all. Close your eyes and make an effort to clear your mind of all of the noisy jumble in it. When a stray thought comes in, avoid thinking about it. Try thinking about nothing at all.

Close your eyes and just let your mind drift for a while. If a bit of sleep comes, that’s okay.

How do you know when to end it? For me, the best way I can describe it is that reality catches up to me with a start. I almost always startle myself out of it, and usually, about twenty minutes have passed.

What I notice more than anything is that I feel really, really refreshed and that my mind is usually racing with good ideas. I often find myself jotting down post ideas for The Simple Dollar right after doing this, and I’m usually very productive for the next hour or two. I also usually don’t feel tired, even if I felt tired before doing this.

I’m sharing this simply because this has really worked well for me and has gone a long way toward improving the quality of my personal, professional, and financial life. You might try it and get nothing out of it – or you might try it and find that it’s a game changer for you. I sincerely hope that it’s the latter.

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  1. Maureen says:

    Sounds great! Who watches the kiddies while you zone out? When my children were very young I was lucky if I got 60 secs of uninterrupted bathroom time, let alone a 20 min. meditation break!

    Not too many bosses would appreciate their staff taking such a break either. Maybe in an ideal world…

  2. Telling me to think about nothing at all reminds me of someone telling me not to think about an elephant…it’s going to be the first thing I think about.

    Just a thought to think about…or not.

  3. Annie says:

    Hi Trent – I too find a twenty minute mental break helpful. But at the risk of sounding like the old fogey I am – we lay our books down on the table, and lie down on our beds to rest and meditate. For those who have trouble thinking of nothing, the instruction I’ve found helpful is to imagine your consciousness at a stream and your thoughts as leaves floating by.

  4. Kara W says:

    @Maureen–I try to do this when my child is down for a nap. When I worked, I most often found time to do this during lunch. I was super productive in the afternoon when every one else was dragging. Thanks for the reminder, Trent. I need to start doing this again.

  5. Here’s a tip, if you find that thinking about nothing at all is challenging, try focusing on your breathing. How the air feels as it enters and leaves your nose or even how it sounds.

    Best of luck guys/gals!

  6. Tina says:

    This does work and I do it quite frequently. Maureen~ if you have to get up 20 minutes early before the kiddie then that’s what you could do. In order to be happy in life we must make time for ourselves. At work, you could use part of your lunch break. It takes a little practice to “not think about anything”, but you can do it. I love this idea, been doing it for about 6 months.

  7. DeeBee says:

    I found meditation invaluable when dealing with my friend’s terminal illness. I would meditate for even 10 minutes, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the chapel, or outside on a sitting bench. I was still sad and grieving, but could face things in a much calmer way.

  8. Almost there says:

    For a funny take on meditation, watch Yo-Gah on youtube. I used to do this but just called it zoning out.

  9. Maria says:

    One of my absolute favorite work-time meditations is when I am waiting for the copier to finish. I can’t really wander off and do something else, so I stand there, focus my breathing, and clear my mind. Check out lines are another really good place for this. You still are aware enough of your surroundings to interact with them if necessary, but you don’t really need to pay perfect attention to every detail. I find it really relaxing and also turns potentially annoying waits into relaxation and refreshment.

  10. Maya says:

    I heartily agree with the importance of some form of meditation.

    Another great way to get these mental breaks if you work in an office is to take mini-centering breaks. Set a reminder on Outlook or use a timer at your desk set to 30, 60, 120 minutes or whatever works for you. When the timer goes off, stop what you are doing, take a deep breath and when you exhale blank out your mind. Do that a couple of times and tune in to your body. Roll your neck, stretch your legs out, or whatever your body needs. Then go back to work. I find that taking 30 seconds ever 30-60 minutes really helps me to keep going all day.

  11. Hope D says:

    Sounds like the mouse getting off the wheel. I don’t do this every day, but it really recharges me when I do. It gives me a renewed focus.

  12. Matthew says:

    I agree… great post. I believe the “thinking about the good things in life” part is important too. As a Christian, the Bible says we enter God’s presence by “thanksgiving” (Psalm 100). So taking some time to be thankful for what is good in our life actually makes us more aware of God and allows us to clear our mind. Awesome.

  13. Michele says:

    Loyola Press has a ‘three minute retreat’ online that is very helpful for those of us who work at a computer all day. Or, Sacred Space has an awesome site where you can follow a prayer online for a few minutes. Very refreshing in a very stressful world.

  14. Systemizer says:

    “Once or twice a day, I go into my bedroom, turn down the lights, lay on the bed, and look up at the ceiling.”

    This is nonsense.

    Either sit down and call it meditation or close your eyes and call it siesta.

  15. Bee says:

    When the work bathroom stall was suggested all I could think about was what you would do if you feel asleep in there! Not many bosses would appreciate their employees taking 20 minute bathroom breaks. I think this is an activity best left to home or the park or whatever, not your works loo’s.

  16. Kate says:

    The image of leaves floating by does work, as does imagining that there is a nose on the bottom of your feet and breathing up through your feet.
    All of these techniques are centering techniques. We so often (i.e. most of the time) live up in our heads and it is like a mouse running around and around and around on a wheel. Taking the time to empty the mind and center back into our bodies makes us much more concious of what we are doing. This is not the same as taking a nap.

  17. Kate says:

    This process also doesn’t need to take a whole 20 minutes.

  18. dP says:

    I tried this yesturday while my toddler was napping. Closed my eyes, concentrated on breathing and cleared my mind. Then I fell asleep for two hours. It was fantastic- especially since I am not typically one who can nap during the day. thanks!

  19. Alex Toll says:

    I guess the best choice for anyone is to find something personal and unique to help them overcome overloads and stress. For myself its staring through the window at the world behind it and green tea, tisanes ocasionally – gets me in the right psychological as well as physical state=) But I’ll definitely try out your approach)

  20. Dee says:

    For those of you into podcasts, a free one called Zencast has meditation instruction. See episodes 249-253 if you would like a more thorough explanation of and instruction in the process of meditation. I get it from iTunes.

  21. aj says:

    I need to remember to do this more often…

    Sometimes at work I will go outside at lunch to sit (or sit in my car) in the sunshine. I just concentrate on the warmth on my skin…and can get into a very deep meditation that is so very relaxing and rejuvenating. I feel like I have slept for hours after returning!

    It is much harder for me to do when the sun isn’t shining…I think I definitely need to invest in one of sun lamps or “good” tanning beds for over the dreary winter months.

  22. Systemizer says:

    @Kate “This is not the same as taking a nap.”

    I could just hear it:

    “I don’t know what happened, honey! One moment I was lying in bed in the dark staring up at the ceiling doing centering techniques and the next moment I was asleep!”

  23. CD Rates Pro says:

    Thanks for the great advice, I think that having a balanced life overall starts with a balanced mind. Setting a few minutes out of the day to clear your mind is very relaxing, I usually accomplish this during my exercise. Hope your words serve as inspiration for others to get their thoughts in line ;)

  24. Wren says:

    Not many bosses would appreciate their employees taking 20 minute bathroom breaks.

    Bee, I’m not picking on you, but I couldn’t help laughing. Given the amount of time people spend at work checking Twitter/Facebook, sending personal emails and other such non-work activities, that 20-minute bathroom break would probably zero out most people’s actual work-related productivity!

  25. Courtney says:

    Sitting still and doing nothing doesn’t work for me. My meditation time is when I’m doing something productive yet mindless, like exercising or vacuuming.

  26. Victoria says:

    I am returning to my practice of meditation; thanks for the article! For those who find it difficult to clear your mind, here is a technique:
    acknowledge the presence of the thought and then “blow it away” with your breath (pretend that the thought is tangible and is moving away with your exhaled breath). In the beginning, I had difficulty with thoughts popping in, and I would stress out trying to “think of nothing.” The above technique really worked for me.

  27. Kate says:

    Thanks, Trent for the reminder about meditation. I have been suffering from horrendous insomnia and focusing on my breathing and centering myself helped me get to sleep last night.

  28. Landon says:

    I have been practicing meditation for awhile now. Mostly sitting down and focusing on my breathing. The key is to be diligent with your practice and to not “judge” how well you are performing. Just acknowledge any thoughts that pop into your mind and let them pass.

    I’ve experienced some unusual physical phenomena while meditation. I’ve also noticed that “good things” tend to happen to me the more I meditate and my mindset is much more positive. Or maybe good things happen because I’m being more positive…

  29. Jonathan says:

    I take longer showers than my wife, which says nothing of our bathing habits. It’s because I tend to relax for 5-10 minutes every morning in the shower in my own little meditative state. The environment is perfect, between the water soothing me, the white noise background, and the silence beyond the shower curtain.

    I’ve also relaxed like you describe, Trent, and it’s the perfect way to let one’s mind go.

  30. Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says:

    Wow, interesting idea! I never thought about just simply sitting down for 20 minutes to meditate and keep my mind totally empty. It sounds like it would be refreshing at best. Unless I try it though, I really don’t know what will result of it.

    I’ll try it tomorrow morning before I start my day. I usually have about 20 extra minutes before I begin work anyway. It should prove an interesting experiment.

    Well, off to bed now. I’ll keep you updated! But, I must say, I’m a tad excited. I’ve been struggling with motivation for a while lately (though it is easing up a bit). This might actually solve the problem somewhat. I’ll see how it goes.

  31. Jessica says:

    I meditate and it is very helpful. I don’t have any little ones, yet. So, this is very easy for me to do without any interruptions.

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