Several weeks ago, during a lecture on ‘Attentiveness,’ the lecturer introduced the concept of Mindfulness; my ears pricked up as I am drawn towards the quieter, more reflective forms of Christian prayer and worship.
My ears then started burning as she started to talk about how Mindfulness was frequently used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. I made a mental note to Google mindfulness. After the lecture I dashed straight to my computer and put the words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘Christian’ into the search engine. I did this because the lecturer has talked about its eastern origins and, I wanted to see whether anyone had ‘contextualized’ (awful word – sorry) for a Christian audience.
My initial search, instead, aroused my curiosity even further because it revealed a significant volume of anti mindfulness rhetoric from within the Christian community.
One of my very rough rules of thumbs is that Christian outrage is frequently a good indicator that further research is warranted!
In the spirit of mindfulness I ordered five books (I am being ironic, taking the …. out of myself – go on be honest you use this word too!). I then approached a couple of friends from an evangelical background, to ascertain whether they felt that I was about to embark on an heretical voyage of discovery.
One of my friends is a clinical psychologist (and a priest) and she felt that mindfulness might be right up this depressives street.
The other chum felt that the criticism came from a lack of understanding of the Christian tradition and, it does seem, that mindfulness is highly congruent (hope you like the use of psycho language) with practices such as Lectio Devina (Benedictine) and the Examen (Ignation). The word practice is important because mindfulness is all about practice, where practice leads to richer understanding, renewal of the mind (very St. Paul) and, the possibility for modified behavior, and even healing.
The words in bold and italics are motifs belonging to both the Christian faith and mindfulness. So far no heresy!
But if I were to pick one motif that I think describes both mindfulness and the habituation of the Christian life it would be abiding.
Abiding describes a state of resting (in God), where we are, in the state we are in.
Abiding accepts that that the past has happened and the future will happen, but stresses the importance of the now.
Abiding accepts a lack of control over events, past and future, whilst trusting in providence. Abiding, suggests an attitude of patience, as in let’s ‘bide our time.’Abiding is the answer to the tendency to ‘pre-live’ our lives in response to projections about how the future may pan out.
Abiding is hospitable, because it accepts that we stand before God, just as we are. When we abide we accept our thoughts and feelings, hospitably, in the full recognition that we are not our thoughts. When we abide we reject the Cartesian notion of ‘I think therefore I am.’
Abiding is charitable and non-judgmental towards self; to abide is to love self in a way that replicate’s God’s love.
To abide is to cast aside fear, to trust in providence and to live in the present.
When we abide we enter into the fullness of the Sermon on the Mount (especially Matthew 6, 25-34), with it’s invocation to live fully in the moment, understanding that ‘tomorrow will take care of itself.’
When Christians abide they are literally in-vocation.
Abiding is also concerned with commitment, a commitment to act responsibly in order to achieve the breaking in of the kingdom on earth as in heaven. Such a commitment is realized through starting with self. The ancient Christian meditative and contemplative traditions stress a series of practices designed to bring increased sense of shalom over time.
Shalom is itself a manifestation of reconciliation with self as lived in the present. Shalom and reconciliation are practices which lead to potential outcomes; let’s not put the cart (or should I say Descartes!) before the horse .
Mindfulness (just like the ancient Christian spiritual practices) invites practitioners to enter into a process where they become fully aware of how they feel, both emotionally and bodily, (and yes, we are supposed to worship God in 3D using our soul, mind and body) and therefore opens up the possibility for self-healing, a practice Jesus advocates: ‘physician heal yourself,’ (Luke 4, 23).
If abiding is my chosen motif, then the incarnation is my theological rationale. Christianity is a fully embodied faith! Mindfulness celebrates the unity, the interpenetration, of mind-body-soul – so does Christianity. Orthodox Christianity rejects Cartesian ‘non humanistic’ logic and Platonic dualism, so does mindfulness. Mindfulness, when done in a Christian context, allow us to accept Jesus’ great invitation to all who feel downtrodden and anxious both emotionally and physically: ‘Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.’ (Matthew 11, 28 & 29).
So why not give it a go?