The Faith Finess study group that met on 14 January focused on the topic of mindfulness, a hot issue among both mental health professionals and those non-specialists among us. The narrative below captures the essence of our latest discussion as shared with that day’s class participants. More than simply a summary, the essay extends our talking points.
What is mindfulness? There are different ways to define this term, and most that are helpful involve a definition that highlights a particular state of awareness. In this way, mindfulness involves being awakened emotionally, intellectually, socially–and i’d add spiritually–to an individual’s place in the universe. Our place, your place, the place of our neighbors, friends, relatives, and in some sense the place and status of every sentient being. Parsed this way, mindfulness is a connection of life-to-life, being-to-being, perceived in a manner that enhances our mutual responsibilities, joy, and every other good thing.
Mindfulness is a state of knowing who and what we are beyond the easy titles and labels thrust upon us. It involves an intimate sense of life and responsibility originating from the inside, namely a state we achieve by disciplined thought, sensitivity, receptivity, and a sense of how the universe interacts with us and vice-versa. All this can sound like some fluffy philosophical indulgence. Fair enough, but what is the alternative? To not know who and what we are? How does that help anyone? To not be aware of the chain of cause-and-effect regarding our actions and inactions? How does that make life better? To be insensitive to ours and others’ needs? How does such indifference contribute to the best possible life?
Especially in context of Christianity, mindfulness would seem to warrant more positive attention that what it has received over most of church history. Often dismissed as some New Age nonsense, mindfulness can in fact makes us better Christians, more inline with God’s will, than any competing theological alternative. How can it not be good to be awakened to feeling God’s presence in and through our various life connections? Would we rather embrace the ignorance and insularity arising from a disconnected and isolated existence? And that’s precisely it, isn’t it. I mean, we are not isolated, and as genetically-engineered social beings we can’t long distance ourselves from the plight of other beings without ultimately damaging ourselves. It is at this point where peace with justice can enter the picture. All manner of social justice ultimately depends on exercising some form of mindfulness. Yes, in a direct sense mindfulness = social justice in action.
As a spiritual leader, a chief task of my ministry must involve both the appreciation and practice of mindfulness. There’s no good way to do much good otherwise. Even secular humanitarianism depends on a form of mindfulness. All the much more does a religiously-inspired mindfulness require that we be active agents of God’s love and truth. Whenever we teach and practice mindfulness we are engaging aspects of love and truth, the twin pillars of our moral universe. Helping people overcome the unholy trinity of fear, ignorance and anger is ultimately an act of mindfulness.
Pray that God will help you develop a mindful approach to life. Know who and what you are, both in relation to our environment but also to that which surpasses it, such as what and who we aspire to become. God as the ultimate Mind is both the source and journey of mindfulness. Find God and you will be invited to embrace mindfulness; embrace mindfulness and you will find God.