Is Mindfulness Christian?
If you are reading this I’m guessing that you have heard about the concept of mindfulness – “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
It’s often regarded as a Buddhist meditation practice or a new age self-help phenomenon, and as such some Christians have been wary of it. However, the more I learn about it the more I believe it is in synergy with the teachings of Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. Used well, Mindfulness practice gives us space to appreciate the moment; to be rather than to do; to be responsive rather than reactive; to feel rather than to over analyse; to appreciate our senses and the blessings God has given us; to love God, ourselves and others from our heart and not just our head. It enables us to be still and quiet, rest in God and hear that still small voice.
How much of our life do we waste pondering the past or worrying about the future? Do Not Worry – Jesus said…(Matthew 6:25-34)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In 1 Peter 5:6&7 we are reminded, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
Christian Mindfulness teaches us that it is the present that is important: it is the present where we can enjoy life, experience the blessings God has given us and be with Him. By allowing our thoughts to wander, dragging things up from the past or planning for a future out of our control we waste precious time; time that we could be using to enjoy the present. Instead of appreciating the moment we often reside in a life of anxiety or despair.
By rushing through our day, always busy doing, we miss so much of what God has in store for us. I’m sure you remember having driven somewhere and not remembered how you got there, operating on auto-pilot. Not only is this not safe but its a sign that the mind is too busy working on other things and is not actively experiencing the present. The huge demands of life lead us to become stressed, prone to burn out and we end up taking our frustrations out on others, having a negative impact on their lives as well as our own.
Mindfulness practice gives the the space we need to appreciate the wonders of this life, to enjoy the moment, to be still, to rest in God, to love Him and to experience His love. It is intrinsically linked to prayer. Not so much prayers of words, rather prayers of the heart, where just like the contemplatives Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross we come to a place where we can just be with God and love Him; where we can follow the most important of the commandments to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength‘ and to ‘love your neighbour as your love yourself’.
The challenge for many of us is that before we can truly love God and others we must learn to love ourself. This means first getting to know the ‘real me’, not ‘me’ in terms of what I do but ‘me’ in terms of who I am. How would you answer the question ‘who are you?’? We spend so much time rushing around ‘doing’ that we often define ourselves by what we do – our occupation or our role in life, as parent, spouse, carer, etc. We don’t take time out to reflect on who we ‘are’ and how God sees us. This often results in us failing to appreciate the wonders of our true-self and prevents us from growing in the likeness of Christ.
Mindfulness is a simple concept – its about being mindful of the present and how we are experiencing it, and being mindful of God – but its not easy to do. It’s a long hard journey which takes a life time. However it is a journey where even the first few steps will start to transform your life for the better, letting you appreciate the wonder of the present and enabling you to know, love and experience God and yourself in a new and special way.
Now I expect you are wondering what you have to ‘do’ to start this mindfulness journey. First remember its not about doing, its about being mindful! Here are a few simple tips to get you started:
- As you shower, appreciate the feel of the warm water flowing over your skin, the smell of the shampoo, the texture of the soap, watch the condensation on the glass, enjoy being clean – and thank God for the blessings of clean water and the ability to keep clean, pray for those who do not have such luxuries.
- Eat your food slowly without talking, look at the colours, feel the textures and taste each flavour – and thank God for the abundance of food He has provided for you, pray for those who are hungry.
- Rather than rushing through all those emails in your inbox, before you open each one – thank God for the person who has sent it and pray for God to bless them.
- Go for a walk in the countryside or park, feel the wind or the sun on your cheeks, look at the patterns of the clouds, hear the birds, see the leaves on the tree, the flowers, appreciate the beauty of your surroundings – thank God for the wonders of His creation.
- When an issue arises or someone is confrontational don’t react. Take a step back (either physically or figuratively), breath, put the situation in God’s hands and respond calmly and with love.
- Sit or lie quietly for at least 10mins each day (more than once if you can), close your eyes, breathe deeply – in and out, in and out. Hear the sounds around you and before naming them gradually push them away. Do the same with any thoughts that come to you mind, acknowledge them and then push them away. Let your mind be quiet, feel the warmth of God’s presence within you, His love surrounding you and rest in His peace. Take three deep breaths in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before returning to the world.
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