One of the more influential mental health trends has been the growing knowledge of the benefits of being mindful. There are books and articles written espousing the benefits of mindfulness and though there many nuances to the practice, they essentially say the same thing. Back when I was a teen there was a big movement for eastern meditation.
For some in that movement, the idea was to rid yourself of any thoughts and if or when this was done you might experience something called nirvana. Mindfulness does not suggest removing thought, a task that is close to impossible. The brain doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just shut off anymore than the heart does under normal circumstances.
Christians have been suspect of meditation because it appears to try and replace the work of the Spirit with the work of the mind. Two things can be true at the same time. The Spirit can work in our heart, mind, and soul along with us facilitating healthy practice of using our brains to influence our well-being.
If this subject bothers you, then you might want to stop reading now. But, I believe that there are many things to mindfulness that can help anyone live with less distress in their lives and for Christians, it can be a tool to have a more meaningful prayer time.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us” (mindful.org).
Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” ( Matt 6:33-34, NASB).
This sounds like Jesus is wanting us to refocus our mental attention to what is right before us, not dwelling on what could be or what has been, but right now. Being aware of what we are thinking, our emotions and our present surroundings is being mindful. What so often happens with us is that our mind and emotions get away from us and we block out the present experience and deny us of some possible peace in that moment.
What’s the difference between meditation and prayer? Meditation can be an exploring of the moment or a deeper dive into a concept that might provide some level of insight. To muse, means to become absorbed in thought. More specifically to think about something carefully and thoroughly.
When we muse on a concept like the Love of God, meditation can be thinking about the various ways God’s love is expressed around us through creation or through our loved ones. It can be thinking of the meaning of a particular verse or recalling some of the extraordinary acts of love and mercy by Jesus in His ministry on earth.
The cares of this world and our individual lives can be extremely distracting to what is important. Our jobs or schooling can be so consuming that we find it difficult to have time for ourselves or others.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way things can get when we are taking care of our families or ourselves. But if we find we can’t find any time to decompress from that part of our world or when we do have the time, we’re still thinking constantly about those cares, it can have a negative effect.
Getting into a habit of stealing some time for quiet contemplation and prayer is always good. Just hard to find sometimes. Mindfulness is also the ability to stop and smell the roses. Being present in that moment, observing all that is around you, notice the little things, the colors, the sounds, the smells and trying to breath it all into your very being.
One of the tenets of mindfulness is the concept of suspending judgment. Judgment of ourselves, others, the things going on in the world and anything else that we sense we know more about that we actually do. This allows us to open up to those things around us that are good and pure.
Regarding judgment, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, to “Judge not, lest you be judged.” This is a wonderful concept but no easy task to actually do. But we can make that choice. To choose to suspend that judgment, even for just a moment to be open to another perspective and to see the good rather than be stuck on the negative.
One of the experts in mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, said that “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” He created a research based process called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR. Again, the greater knowledge of the brain in the past 30 years has helped us understand that organ in a way that can help us used it better, manage it’s impact on our lives, and help us live better lives.
In practicing mindfulness we can think about our thinking that can lead to significant insights. Through the practice we can seize control of our thoughts and to bring them back to the present rather than reliving some past or worry about some possible future. It can ground us in the present and provide a balance that can often slip away from us so quickly.
I worked with a teacher, who, when he learned about the impact of mindfulness applied it to his classroom. Each day, he would turn the lights off and play some instrumental music and allow the students to practice some breathing as well as focus on the present and sometimes go to an imagined peaceful place.
This had the result of calming the students from the bustle of the hallways of high school to focusing on their present work project and being productive. The strategy was amazing to watch unfold as students of all types participated in the exercise and when it was done quickly began to work and be creative. How could that be a bad thing?
Mindfulness can be used any way you would like to. It doesn’t rob you of some spiritual connection and can actually be used to enhance it. Utilizing our brains and understanding its function can enrich our lives and help us reduce the impact of our fears, our negative emotions, and moods.
So, how do I do it?
- Purpose to set some time aside for yourself for meditation and/or prayer.
- Find a comfortable sitting situation ( in a chair – both feet on the ground and back straight, on the ground – cross legs comfortably)
- Breathing. There are several versions of this process but essentially they are quite similar. First slowly breath in through your nose, feel the sensation of the breath in and hear it come in for four seconds, ( that automatically causes you to become present), hold briefly ( up to four seconds), and then slowly exhale out your mouth for four seconds ( this requires some control because you will be tempted to do it fast) and then repeat this at least five times and up to as much as you feel that your are fully present and the distractions around you have been put aside.
- Focus your eyes slightly downward or close them
- If in prayer – after you have calmed your mind – begin talking to God intentionally by focusing on issues one at a time; praise and thanksgiving, confession, asking for personal help or for others
- If for stress and emotion management – work to linger in the present, observe the things around you and allow your mind to wonder, feel the mental control you have at the moment and build on it with self-positive affirmation and thankfulness
- If for relaxation – begin to tighten and then relax your feet muscles two or three times and then move upward through your body with the same tightening and relaxing of the calf muscles, hamstrings, all the way up to your face progressively. Be aware and feel the sensations throughout your body as you perform this.
- Remember to suspend judgment and if you find yourself wandering into that just nudge yourself back to the present and the liberation you feel when you accept things, enjoy things, and if applicable purpose to change things in love.
I hope you found this helpful. If you are having some struggles in life and are at a loss as to what to do please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact me directly or through the offices of Seattle Christian Counseling. If I could be of any assistance to you I would consider that a great privilege.
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