About 3,000 years ago the Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The writer was referring to being mindful of God’s Word.
About 500 years later in China, the Buddha (the Awakened One) founded the Buddhist movement, the way of those who are awakened. He emphasized mindfulness as the key to enlightenment.
Christian monks from early on in the world-wide Christian movement practiced mindfulness in their routine chanting the Psalms all the way through many times a month. They focused on Scripture many times a day. Their way of life always struck me as boring to the nth degree. Yet it apparently held personal satisfactions that attracted large numbers of Christians to the monastic movements from the 6th century until recent decades in America.
Psychologists today are re-discovering the value of mindfulness in coping with the challenges of modern living. Their practices have been taken from Buddhist traditions. Yet the basics were pioneered by the writer of Psalm 1.
Here is what I have learned from psychologist Ronald Siegel in his lectures and book on The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.
- Mindfulness can be cultivated.
- Mindfulness can help us see and accept things as they are.
- Mindfulness can help us loosen our painful preoccupation with “self.”
- Mindfulness frees us to act more wisely and skillfully in everyday decisions.
A big part of mindfulness with many practitioners is having a mantra, a sound or phrase to help concentrate the mind. This is a practice that is easily satirized, as with the image of a turbaned guru sounding a long Oom. Centering or contemplative prayer is a better description.
The longer you stay focused on one image the less your mind will flit from one topic to another. The more worrisome thoughts you have, the more your body generates tension, which will keep you awake. Focus on one positive thought and you will relax more and get to sleep.
Here are some thoughts on how you can gain the benefits of mindfulness, based on biblical phrases. I think the following passages are very popular among Christians facing tough times, relied on enough to put them on wall plaques in their homes.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The mantra would be strengthens me. You can focus on an image of a time when you were strengthened, like being helped up by others.
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Focus on an image of a good that came out of a bad time for you.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” Focus on an image of a special blessing you received that “prospered” you.
“Those who have hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles.” Focus on a time when you felt like you “soared like an eagle,” especially in a Christian context.
Sometimes many people have a hard time falling asleep after going to bed for the day. Mindfulness can help you relax and thus fall asleep sooner. The old adage to count sheep has some merit. I count ascending numbers in the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling: inhale “1,” exhale “2,” inhale “3, exhale “4.” Then see how far you can count before falling asleep.
I’ve recently experimented using this phrase when inhaling “Grow in Christ” and then “Die to self” when exhaling. That’s not a bad summary of the Christian life.
Martin Seligman, the psychologist who pioneered the study of happiness, observed that “our field has focused on how to move people from ‘minus five to zero’. Most of us hope for more.” The Holy Spirit can give us that “more” we all long for.