I've trained myself to begin and end each day with what my ALEPH teachers would call prayerful consciousness. I begin the day with modah ani, sung silently in my head if not aloud; I end the day with the shema and blessing those who are dear to me. Even though I often don't manage to make the time to daven (pray) the whole morning and evening liturgy, I feel good that I have inculcated these practices deeply enough that they persist without me having to remind myself to do them.
What I don't have is any kind of consistent practice for afternoon's mincha time. (This is not new.) Lately I've been spending time with a one-paragraph meditation written by Rabbi Edward Feld, which I long ago copied from Kol HaNeshamah, the Reconstructionist siddur. It's an abridged version of the middle of the weekday amidah, the standing prayer which is central to every service. The amidah is our time to stand before God, whatever we understand that to mean -- God far above or deep within.
On Shabbat we offer seven amidah blessings; the weekday version contains 19 blessings. (Why longer on weekdays? Because traditionally one doesn't ask for anything on Shabbat, which is meant to be a special time out of time. On weekdays, we can make requests.) The weekday amidah has some heft to it, but the tradition makes allowances for those who are traveling and can't manage the whole thing. This abridging, replacing the middle 13 blessings with one, is one of our traditional "workarounds."
Anyway, here's the abbreviation of those middle 13 requests with which I've been spending time lately:
פקח עיני לראות בטוב יצרך
והפך דעתי לדעתך ורצוני לרצונך.
יהיו כל מעשי כקרבן רצוי לפניך
ותסלח לכל פשעי.
תנ לי לראות אורך בכל פגישותי
ורפא נא מכאובות לבי.
כי אתה שומע תפלת כל פה.
ברוך אתה יה שומע תפלה.
Open my eye, that it may look upon the goodness of Your plan,
and turn my knowledge into knowledge of your ways, my will into Your will.
May all that I do be like an offering received into Your presence,
and may You forgive me all I have done wrong.
Enable me to see Your light in all whom I encounter,
and please heal the pain within my heart.
For You are one Who listens to the prayer of all who speak.
Blessed are You, Eternal One, Who hears all prayer.
I know that Rabbi Feld did not intend for this blessing to replace the weekday amidah altogether, but on days when my time is tight, sometimes this is my whole afternoon amidah. (I keep it printed out beside my desk so I can grab it as needed in the pause between meetings.) Even when it's all I manage to do, it does shift the tenor of my heart a little bit. I think it helps me to bring more awareness and spaciousness to whatever meetings or obligations or teaching might be coming next.
I love how this blessing presumes that if my eyes are open, they will see God's goodness. There is goodness in the world; I need only to open myself to it, and I will recognize that it is there. I love the line about wanting my actions to be an an offering -- to me, that hints at the name of the afternoon service, mincha, which means offering, as in the afternoon offering once made at the Temple in Jerusalem. I love the intention of seeing God's light in all whom I meet as I go about my day.
And I love that there is a request for healing. Sometimes there is an ache sitting heavy on my heart. Sometimes I am sad about something, or worried about someone, or wishing I could make life sweeter for someone I love. And sometimes it feels as though my sorrow, or my worry, or my yearning is a block to my ability to daven. But this prayer reminds me otherwise. My yearnings themselves can feed my prayer; can become my prayer. They are the holiest thing I can offer up on the altar of my heart.