Living Mindfully: 10 Practices…

Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Blog | 5 comments

Mindfulness is the new buzz word in many circles, and it is easy to understand why. In a world which views multi-tasking as essential, and offers far too many distractions, the gift of the present moment often passes unheeded. We are at risk of becoming human doings rather than human beings – and the consequences are enormous. During my Sabbatical at Spurgeon’s College, I have been working on a book about forming spiritual leaders, and one of the formational practices I have been reading about has been mindfulness – and I thought a few of the things I have read were worth passing on.

Some Christians are inherently suspicious of mindfulness, linking it to Buddhism – though such a dismissive attitude is silly. Yes, Buddhists do embrace many of the practices of mindfulness in their various forms of meditation, but similar practices are found in many Christian monastries, and secular psychologists draw on the underlying principles to help people overcome stress, anxiety, depression, anger, grief, fatigue, addictions, pain management – in fact, you name it, and some mindfulness practice will be suggested to help improve it.

Mindfulness is about paying attention purposefully. It is about intentionally noticing what is happening in the present moment – as opposed to living nostalgically or regretfully in the past, or in constant anticipation of the future, or thoughtlessly in the present. It is about embracing the present, and embracing it with curiosity (taking a real interest in the what and why of the now), kindness (as an intentional choice of attitude), and acceptance (not in the sense that I will never try to change things, but rather that I accept that at this point, this is the way things are).

During my reading I came across Shaun Lambert’s book Putting on the Wakeful One: Attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness. Lambert (who sometimes teaches at Spurgeon’s) makes the helpful point that Christians aim not just at mindfulness (which tends to focus on what is happening in me) but also at watchfulness (looking for the signs of God at work, so that we can live more intentionally and obediently. Mindfulness and watchfulness are related, because unless I am mindful, I am unlikely to be watchful. Put differently, if I am not even noticing what is going on inside of me, am I really likely to notice what is going on inside of others, or to sense where the Spirit of God is at work.

Also helpful has been Shamash Alidina’s book, Mindfulness for Dummies. As the title suggests, this a Mindfulness 101 guide – very accessible and practical with lots of exercises suggested.In chapter 16 Aldina gives these 10 tips for mindful living. I’ve listed each tip – but the commentary is my own:

  1. Spend some quiet time every day. Actually, for Christians this should be a no brainer. My early years as a Christian were dominated by suggestions of what Bible passages to read and how to pray in your daily quiet time. It was taken as a given that Christians would have a daily quiet time when they consciously interacted with God. In recent years this seems to have dropped off the radar (too legalistic) – and it is interesting that contemporary psychologists are suggesting this is a practice worth cultivating, even though they would not necessarily point to reading scripture and prayer (though most would accept them as possible options). Regardless, we need to quieten ourselves each day if we are to notice what is happening inside of us, and in those around us.
  2. Connect with people. When we meet with people, especially new people, we are often so anxious about what we will say to them that we don’t take time to notice them – to look them in the eye and to take in what we see, and then to listen to what they say, and to understand what they are saying from their point of view – to imagine what it is like to be them. Mindfulness invites us to be mindfully present with the other – fully there with them – as opposed to wondering if I have yet another new message on my phone, and how I can check it without it being too obvious.
  3. Enjoy the beauty of nature. I often go walking, and pass through a few parks on the way. The beauty is stunning, and there is so much on the go – the insects, birds and flowers all telling their own story. I’m stunned at how many people rush through that same landscape, clearly intent on getting the days exercise, but doing so with their headphones on and listening to various singers belting out their often angry and cynical songs. They are in nature – but they really aren’t… Instead, why not mindfully step into nature – and be there while you are there.
  4. Change your daily routine. This is a very practical suggestion. Most of us are creatures of habit, and often start to do things in auto pilot. When we intentionally change our routine, we have to pay a little more attention, and as we do so, we notice things we often don’t. I have been surprised at the different things I have spotted by simply walking on the other side of the street. With different angles, you see things you otherwise wouldn’t.
  5. See the wonder of the present moment. This is an area I am working on. I’m usually future focused – thinking about the next thing to work on or what I still want to do. But now is now. It is God’s current gift to us.
  6. Listen to unpleasant emotions. We sometimes try to deny these – perhaps because they concern us or we don’t want to heed their warning. But actually emotions come and go. You are not your emotions. Look at them – be curious. Why do you currently feel as you do? What are your emotions saying to you?
  7. Remember that thoughts aren’t facts. Thoughts come and go – our minds are full of them. Seeing thoughts as just thoughts (rather than defining facts) can be liberating. When we look at our thoughts, we can more objectively decide if we agree with them or not. For example, I might think, “I’m useless.” That’s a thought, not a fact. Look at it. Probe it. Challenge it. Compare it to what God says about you, and the way in which the scriptures encourage us think about ourselves.
  8. Be grateful every day. Do you remember the invitation of the old chorus, “Count your blessings, name them one by one”? It’s also advocated by practitioners of mindfulness. We need to note the things we have to be grateful for. It can be an especially helpful practice if you have a  restless, anxious sleeping pattern. Before you go to bed, count your blessings. No, don’t count the things you are anxious about – though there are times to do that, in a mindful way, objectively looking at them, remembering that you are not your problems. Rather, take an inventory of the things you have to be grateful about, and sleep on that.
  9. Use technology mindfully. I was interested that though Alidina doesn’t specifically cite the Sabbath principle, he does suggest having a technolgy detox day once a week. Just switch off your phone, laptop, TV and other digital distractions and ignore them one day a week. Perhaps nothing has made mindfulness more difficult than modern technology. We check our phones like addicts, often reaching for them first thing in the morning, every few minutes during the day and last thing at night. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have them. It’s time to ask if we’ve been taken captive – and to intentionally keep technology in its place – where it serves but does not control.
  10. Breathe and smile. Apparently the mere act of smiling helps us to relax a little – and when we relax we notice more. Consciously slowing our breathing also helps us to think more clearly and to notice more. And when we smile, we help others to relax as well.

See if these practices help you. You might have others you would like to suggest in the comments. I think it is an area we need to think about. While we usually seek dramatic experiences, I am often reminded of 1 Kings 19 where God came to Elijah not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in the quietest of whispers. Hearing that gentle whisper can sustain us for the longest of journeys.

As always, nice chatting…

 

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for a helpful, concise and practical article as always Brian.

  2. Wonderful, Brian! I love the verse “Be still, and know that I am God” Ps46:10. However, I always struggled to be still because my thoughts were taking me all over the place. Mindfulness has helped me to be still and in doing so, to be more aware of God, myself and the world around me.

    • Thanks Paul. Very good to hear from you.

  3. Dear Brian, thank you for this, a really useful and practical piece. It spoke to me, as I’m very aware of having too much stuff in my life; a new relationship, children living in different towns, me living in between several places, having a main job, some part-time ones, several church activities, and now starting discernment about some training as a pastor. I thank God for the richness of it all, but the importance of quiet times should be emphasised, to help keep perspective on what’s most important — a relationship with God, and with those around you.

    A while ago, I had a wonderful picture in my mind, of me holding absolutely armfuls of stuff, struggling to hold it all and dropping bits everywhere, and God seeming so say “here, I have something wonderful to give you, but, oh, wait, how can I …?”

    I like how you address one common concern about mindfulness, that it is sometimes seen as an unchristian practice. Yet there is a tradition of Christian contemplation, that seems a little forgotten.

    • Thanks for sharing Mark. We are certainly the poorer when we forget the long established Christian tradition of meditation. All the best in the discernment process.

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