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My dear friend, A, is a spontaneous gifter.When A sees something that reminds her of a friend, she buys it. She then presents these finds without waiting for traditional gift-giving occasions.

A recently gave me “Hugs: Daily Inspirations for Women,” which includes a year’s worth of devotions.

The reflection for the day A gave me the book was based on Psalm 5:12 — “You, Lord, will bless the righteous.” The message was to accept God’s blessings and give thanks and offered a quote from author Catherine Marshall: God is always far more willing to give us good things than we are anxious to have them.”

A’s gifts often involve intuition. She participates in a daily practice of focused prayer and prays at other times throughout the day as well. I believe this mindfulness keeps her attuned to the needs of her friends. She makes space in her life to reflect on the world around her and consider the needs, wants and desires of others. For her, this practice is based on gratitude, grace and a desire to be humble.

The contemplative practice of prayer or meditation has long been recognized as important and powerful.

The human intentional, focused reflection dates back to ancient societies. References to prayer and solitary reflection is frequently referenced in various scriptural sources of many religious faith. Likewise, references to meditative practices were recorded in Hindu texts as early as 1500 BCE, according to “American Veda” by Philip Goldberg.

Perhaps meditative practice has endured because of its far-reaching and long-lasting benefits. Those who utilize a regular contemplative practice often say it’s relaxing, meaningful and brings clarity.

There’s also new evidence meditation is good for your health. The University of California, Davis, sponsors the decade-old Shamantha Project, a massive research study that shows serious diligent, frequent meditation practitioners can net rewards for up to seven years.

The project is the most comprehensive study of meditation thus far and carries endorsement from the Dali Lama.

In 2007, the project began tracking 60 experienced meditators who attended two intensive meditation retreats. Each retreat lasted three months. Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace provided instruction in sustained-attention meditation techniques. He also taught participants meditative methods designed to foster empathy and compassion. Daily sessions included two group meditations and six hours of solo practice.

If that sounds extreme, note there’s a waiting list for these Colorado-based retreats.

Participants were tested before, during and after the retreat. (Those on the waitlist were tested, too, as a control group.) Results from post-retreat tests showed attendees were better able to focus their minds.

Six months, 18 months and seven years later, follow-up tests show retreat attendees remain more mindful and focused, with pronounced ability to manage stress and increased psychological well-being. Of the 40 original participants who UC-Davis researchers tested in 2017, all continue to meditate in some way for an average of one hour per day.

We won’t all be marathon meditators. However, the Shamantha Project shows that carving out some time once or twice each day for a focused, contemplative practice, reaps rewards.

Options are plentiful and varied, from journaling to Christian Contemplative Prayer.

Breathing exercises are a good way to make yourself start taking the break to reflect. These techniques have been linked to improved blood pressure and reduced stress.

If you have a smartphone or similar device, there are free apps to help.

For example, Apple Watch offers “Breathe.” The application takes you through calming exercises designed to focus and slow your breathing.

There are apps that offer prayer and meditation reminders, too. Two of my favorites are “Centering Prayer” and “Calm.” Both are available on iPhone and Android devices.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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