I Practiced Mother Teresa’s Meditations Every Day for Week—Here’s What Happened
I tried to embrace what Mother Teresa calls the simple path: "Silence is prayer. Prayer is faith. Faith is love. Love is service. The fruit of service is peace." Here's what I learned.
You can find quiet moments in loud places
When I decided to try to follow the meditations from Mother Teresa's A Simple Path for a week, I envisioned myself reading her book on a park bench at sunrise, closing my eyes and letting the words sink in. Alas, there was not a single day when that happened. Instead, I tossed the book into a tattered canvas tote and read it on the subway in little slivers of time while barreling across New York City. I dog-eared the pages that inspired me, like the one that said, "In the silence of the heart, God speaks," and I promised myself that I would find silence and prayer later, except later never came.
A Simple Path talks a lot about having love for ourselves since we will be better able to serve and love others if we are "filled up." I learned to find silence and love for myself in tiny moments—walking around the corner for coffee, closing my eyes waiting for the bus, working at my desk. Instead of wishing I was without interruption or responsibilities, I embraced the noise in and around me.
If you are working on being present here are more easy ways you can fit mindfulness in your life. Finding quiet was more about an inner peace than an external calm—I've learned to go about my day and find the silence in my heart whenever I can.
Love can be so simple if we let it
A loved one is going through a rough patch and I make it a point to call her every few weeks to lend an ear. (Have a friend in a difficult circumstance? Here's what NOT to say.) I had a small window of time free so I gave her a ring. I half expected to be burdened with an intense discussion or to expend precious emotional energy, yet when she answered my call, she had good news for me—she and her partner were hired for a job they both wanted and needed. Plus they were busy and couldn't chat long. All that was left for me to do was share their good news, show excitement, and send celebratory emojis. Mother Teresa wrote, "Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired." By showing up for the small thing like a phone call to a loved one, I found myself energized when I didn't expect to be and reminded that the "work" of love is often less complicated than I make it out to be.
Poverty isn't only about money
When we hear the word "poverty" we might think of developing countries, some parts of rural America, or certain urban areas. Of course, these are places that are heavily influenced by income inequality. But Mother Teresa is well known for her acknowledgment of what she calls "spiritual poverty." She wrote, "The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." Throughout the week, I repeated to myself the message that love, like food, is needed to survive, and that even the most well-fed among us might be hungry for love. Mother Teresa also says, "The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread." I meditated on the idea that even the most successful and wealthy around me might be in need of love. To help rectify this, I smiled more. It's not just about showing compassion, as smiling is good for us, according to science. I held more doors. I practiced patience. I didn't do this to assume anyone was walking around feeling a certain way but to allow space to show compassion for a hidden struggle and provide a means of acknowledging that all people, rich or poor, can be in need.
Giving brings joy and lightness
When I cleaned my room I found a small jewelry box. It was more artisanal than fancy, decorated with pieces of white and black ribbon and small jewels. I don't remember where it's from but it looked homemade. I hadn't used it in years, but the more I held in my hands the more I wanted to keep it. In the spirit of giving that Mother Teresa embodied, I decided to gather up some old jewelry to put inside the box and find someone to gift it to. I filled it with about 10 or so necklaces—the layered, funky orange and teal one I wore to a friend's wedding, the purple medallion my sister gave me back in high school, the early 2000s choker with a little silver heart in the middle. The jewelry made me think of my younger years, so I walked down my block in hopes of spotting a teen who might appreciate the recycled jewelry's youthful style. As I walked, a flash of selfishness hit me. Maybe I could find a place for this box, I thought. Maybe I'll want to wear some of this jewelry, I told myself. I resolved to continue with the plan. After a few blocks, I noticed a young woman and asked her if she might like this jewelry box. I awkwardly showed her the box. She accepted with a smile and her eyes widened when I held up one of the dangling, shimmery beaded pieces. She told me she was 22. Ah, perfect. I walked away with a quiet joyfulness—giving is unexpectedly soothing. It's not about feeling heroic or patting yourself on the back for doing a good deed, but about the light feeling that emerges when you let go of something for someone else. Want to experience this feeling? Finding true joy is easier than you think.
Sainthood is a choice we can make
I recently moved to a new apartment. The usually stressful process of moving was going smoothly until my love seat got stuck in the doorway on the way out. After much duress and a few close calls, my trusty moving partner and I managed to squeeze it out—but there was still no room in the car to bring it home. Even though I loved the sofa and wanted to keep it, I had considered selling it, figuring it might sell fast since it's cute, good quality, and has a comfy pull-out bed for guests. I was under a time crunch, though, so even though I posted ads, there were no takers. I was bummed. I was ready to put it on the street with a free sign until I called for an UberXL wondering, on the off chance, if the driver might let me put it in the back. I expected the driver to say no or be annoyed at my request, especially since helping me move isn't in his job description. Instead, the driver happily agreed to take the furniture. He got out and helped me load the loveseat into the back, a process that took almost a half-hour of careful positioning work. When we arrived at my new apartment, the driver again got out and helped me carry it inside the lobby with great care, even offering to help bring it upstairs. (At this point my moving partner had gone home). I tried giving the driver $20 in cash as a tip and he refused and told me he was happy to help. I joked to friends and family that my "Uber Saint" saved the day, but his choice to act in a highly virtuous manner touched me in a deep place. Here I was struggling to lead a week of generosity and I ended up being on the receiving end of another's kindness. We can never predict how and when it will happen but generosity is bound to flow back to us. That day I learned that saints are normal people who choose to serve without expectation or knowledge of how much it will mean to someone else.
Keep spreading love no matter what
One line in Mother Teresa's celebrated poem, Do it Anyway, is, "People really need help but may attack you if you help them—help them anyway." I wasn't attacked in the slightest but some of my efforts were rejected and others fell short of my goals. I called my local church to offer them a winter coat in good condition and they let me know they weren't accepting donations at the moment. I signed up to serve at a food bank and I had to cancel because of a scheduling conflict. When I brought old books to the local library for donations, it was closed. I started to feel like I was forcing service. I actually offered to give my juicer away (I am a health-conscious New Yorker after all) to a former classmate who said no, thank you (totally understandable—we're all Marie Kondu-ing these days). I worried I was failing at this experiment.
In a larger sense, I sometimes go through life unable to shake this feeling that I'm coming up short, not getting everything done or being critical of myself. Wasn't I supposed to have some big grand moment of compassion for others? Not at all. I thought of the moments when I didn't try as hard, like when I put my hands on pregnant family members' belly in total awe or wished a travel buddy a "happy birthday" with pure excitement.
One day I walked home carrying a few boxes. A neighborhood kid pointed at me and smiled (I probably looked a little silly covered in cardboard) so I joked and told him I was dressed like a robot. He responded in a robot voice. This tiny lighthearted exchange kept me going. Mother Teresa wrote, "It is not how much you do but how much love you put into the doing and sharing with others that is important." Next, check out the surprisingly powerful benefits of being nicer to yourself.