The practice of mindfulness has blossomed into a common therapeutic intervention in the treatment of mental health conditions and disorders. Increasingly, this practice is taught by professionals to help people struggling with a range of problems. What is mindfulness though? What is it about the practice of mindfulness that helps so many people? How does someone practice mindfulness? In their daily life? In their relationships? In their spiritual life? And in dealing with their emotional or behavioral problems? It is my hope to provide some answers to these questions and illustrate how mindfulness, in its diverse applications, is a tool to connect, enrich, understand and heal. Mindfulness is useful in the daily moments of life, in relationships, and in managing emotions or a mental health condition; however, it is mindfulness in the context of a Christian world view that I will first establish some foundation.
In Psalm 46:10, God speaks to us and says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The context of this is very important. At a time when the author of this Psalm and the nation of Israel were likely experiencing problems, conflict, challenges, and perhaps war, the Lord spoke and said, “Be still and know that I am God.” In verses 1-9 in this chapter, the author first reminds the reader that “God is their strength,” is “ever-present in times of trouble,” that “God is there to help,” that “the Almighty is with us,” that “God is our fortress.” What a message of encouragement in a challenging time! Then God spoke and said, “Be still and know that I am God.” What does this mean? In the context of hard times, perhaps in war, God uttered the words, “be still,” (stop, cease, stop fighting). The psalmist and God are drawing us to two ideas. The first is that we need to stop what we’re doing. Slow down. Cease. Stop fighting. The second idea is “know that I am God.” We are to “know” (remember, experience, pay attention, be aware of) who God is and God’s provision (strength, availability, helpfulness, closeness to us, protection). In a life that gets confusing, difficult, painful, and we’re fighting so much, we are reminded to stop and put our attention on God- to remember, to acknowledge, to be aware of, to be mindful of who God is. And in this we can find peace and comfort, knowing that we are not alone, and that we have a God of provision! Whether faced with troubles or not, our Creator calls us remain mindful of Him, of his character, of his ability to meet our needs and fill us with peace and confidence.
When talking about mindfulness, the common professional or clinical meaning of it is to practice being present in this exact moment… to experience this very moment with attention, with awareness, as it is. Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of noticing, being attentive to, or having awareness of the moment as it is. Mindfulness is deliberately putting our attention on something. One can be mindful or aware of what they are thinking, what they might be feeling, or what they can see, taste or smell too. The following examples illustrates the practicality of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness (or awareness) of emotion could lead someone to recognize that they feel uneasy every time they must negotiate new terms on their cable or internet bill, which they notice they perpetually avoid. Perhaps another example is noticing the worry-thoughts they have about everything they need to do tomorrow and the distraction it is causing in their daily functioning today. Mindfulness practice may lead someone to really taste their food and notice it’s flavor (wonderful or not). Maybe someone notices: the peace certain music gives them, the joy that connection with others provides, the hope that a worship service instills, the mouth-watering aroma of fresh baked cookies, the sadness on the anniversary of a loss, the honor and respect on Veterans Day, the thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day, the defensiveness in an inter-personal conflict, the thought “I’m not good enough,” when I don’t get picked for a primary role, or the feelings of confidence that bubble up after receiving a compliment.
The practice of mindfulness (or our intentional awareness or attention to something) is a waiting opportunity all around us. As the list above illustrates there are limitless opportunities to be mindful. Whether one practices engaging in the vertical attention and awareness of God, their horizontal awareness of things around them, or the deep, inward parts of their thoughts and feelings, we have opportunities to engage with a meaningful practice. Mindfulness requires that we: slow down and perhaps stop, focus on the moment, and attentively notice that moment and all that it brings. Whether mindfulness directs one’s attention vertically to the Creator, horizontally to the people and situations around them, or inwardly towards one’s own thoughts and feelings, the process of mindfulness can open doors of connection, enrichment, understanding, and healing! To begin using the practice of mindfulness, simply stop, slow down, be in the moment, and notice and absorb what the moment has to offer!
Please stayed tuned for follow-up articles on this topic of mindfulness and specifics about how it can be useful in daily life, in relationships, in one’s spiritual life, and in managing mental health problems!