Mindfulness Meditation involves the practice of intentionally and purposefully focusing on the present moment in a gentle, effortless manner. The ides is to focus, not in a pushed, forceful or strained manner, but rather, softly and persistently on something that exists in the present moment. Focusing on one’s breath is often a good place to start when beginning Mindfulness Meditation, because breathing occurs in the present moment, and our breath is always with us, everywhere we go.
Focused on the breath, my mind is occupied on that which is in the present moment, instead of gravitating toward the usual future-focused “what-ifs” and past-focused distressing regrets, thus providing me with a much needed emotional break. This is not to say that worries and concerns stop invading as soon as I begin focusing on my breath. Those thoughts will barge in, but rather than forcefully pushing these uninvited guests aside, instead, I gently pick up the present moment and softly lay it back down in the cross-hairs of my focus. If thoughts invade a hundred times, that’s okay; I just gently place my focus back onto my breath a hundred-and-one times, lovingly, without self-abasement for having allowed in the invaders. I simply acknowledge the other thoughts in a neutral manner, without judgment or disdain. They are just thoughts, and I am no less a person because they interrupted my focus on my breath.
As you begin practising Mindfulness Meditation, you will soon discover that sustaining focus on the present moment (on your breath) is no small feat. As simple a task as it is, it is extremely difficult to accomplish, because your natural placement of thoughts does not generally persist in the present moment. The longer you practice, however, the more natural it will eventually become. The key to success, however, lies in the gentle, loving nature in which you repeatedly pick up your focus and lay it gracefully back onto your breath.
Over time, you can start to place your focus on things that are in nature, occurring right here, right now. You may decide to focus in on the scents and smells in your environment. At first you may only be able to sustain your attention on these for a minute or so, but over time, you will be able to do so for 5 or 10 minutes. Then you may shift your focus to things around you that are alive: the grass, the trees, flowers, and wildlife. Anything you can see, touch, feel, or imagine in the present moment.
For as long as you have practised focusing on that particular object or concept in the present moment, your mind has been freed from the stresses of the past and the future. Moreover, you have just trained yourself to have a heightened awareness of your world around you. Did you notice sights, smells and sensations that you never really acknowledged in the past on a daily, moment-by-moment basis? Did your appreciation for God’s creation increase?
Once you have been practicing Mindfulness Meditation for a while, you can start to take the skill with you into your active life, focusing in on the people with whom you interact, in a more deliberate way. Rather than going on auto-pilot in conversing with others, pay attention to what they are saying in the moment you are listening. Notice their eyes, their mouth, their gestures. Notice yourself in interaction with them. How are you coming across? What is your body language? Pay attention to it, in the present moment.
As you learn to engage more in the present moment, you may notice your memory improving. Because you paid attention, moment-by-moment to what the other person was really saying, you will have a greater recall of the relevant details of their life, because auto-pilot is disengaged. Is this not what God calls us to do, to have deep love and concern for others, enough that we involve our minds in what matters to them?
Here are some additional way that the Christian can enrich his or her life and the lives of others through mindfulness experiences:
Focusing on the Word of God
Consider for a moment the very first time that you experience something new. Your awareness of it is generally at its peak. It is fresh, and the mind is pre-programmed to look for things that are new and different. So it is with The Word of God. The first time you read certain Bible passages and learned of God’s unceasing love and forgiveness, the words leaped off the page and into your heart and mind. But over time, some of those passages may have become “same old, same old,” bouncing a little off the walls of your heart.
As you are reading your Bible, try taking just a brief passage, and focusing in on it, in the present moment, pondering how it applies to you now, this day, in this moment, under these circumstances in your life. You’ll soon see that it’s not about whether you’ve heard that passage before, but that it is about never having heard it before now in this way, in this moment in time. How will you apply it? What will you do with it? How will it draw you closer to God, to Jesus, and to others?
Do Not Worry About Tomorrow
Jesus commands us not to worry about tomorrow, but to focus on what is in your world today, now, here, in this moment, because he knows that Satan can hurl you into turmoil by making you worry and fret. God is with you, moment by moment, and he will continue to be, always. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples before being taken up into heaven was, “Surely I am with you always, to the end of time” (Matt 28:28). Notice the present tense he uses. He is with us always, because he is in the present moment. Moreover, all throughout the Bible, God is known as “I AM,” demonstrating that God is always in the present, always has been, and always will be. We are not placing our trust in a being who will be there one moment, but not the next. We are placing our trust in the ever-present Lord of the Universe. The more we learn to focus on the present moment, the more we will become aware that God is right there with us, too. Jesus is right there with us. As soon as your mind starts to wander and fret about your circumstances, gently and lovingly bring your focus back to the present moment, where God and Jesus are right there with you. They’ll be with you in the present tomorrow, too, so you need not worry about tomorrow.
Forgiving Grievances of the Past
Every person on earth is going to be hurt by others. That is a given, and knowing that, God planned from before the world began, that Jesus would come to forgive us of our sins toward others. We are all sinners. Dwelling on what I did to others and what others did to me, is another way in which I can give the devil a foothold. Forgiveness is not a once-for-all thing in most circumstances. Entering into a place where you were once hurt may trigger a lot of past painful emotion, and memories may resurrect resentments and anger. Forgiveness will be necessarily called for on a present, moment-by-moment basis, for as long as we live. By living in the present moment, gently placing my thoughts and awareness back into the now, I can help prevent my thoughts from going back and fishing out old stuff that leads nowhere good. The apostle Paul urged that, rather than let our minds wander back into past pain or fast-forward to future fears, we focus instead on, “….whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil 4:8).
Walking the Christian Walk
My Dad used to sternly say, with tongue-in-cheek (that is, jokingly), “Do as I say, and not as I do!” whenever he was caught doing something he’d hypocritically told us not to do (like snatching a cookie from the cookie jar just before bed). In our day to day lives as Christians, there is no point in espousing Christianity, while not practicing it. The Bible was not given to us so we could be religious, but so that we could learn more about the heart of God and his Son Jesus, and allow The Word to transform our hearts into the likeness of Their hearts. By practicing Mindfulness Meditation, I will become more aware of the state of my own heart, and the hypocrisy of my own actions at times when I find it hard to follow Jesus. I will no longer overlook my own impatience, but will see it for what it is, and lay it in humility before God to help me transform it into kindness. I will no longer nurse a quiet, unacknowledged grudge against another person, but will allow my awareness of my unresolved feelings to call me to action in dealing with it.
Walking in Faith
By practicing Mindfulness Meditation, I can start to focus in on the reality that God has hosts of angels around me, invisible as they may be, ministering to me and serving the Lord of the Universe. I will become more aware that God’s Holy Spirit is with me, every moment of every day when I face chronic pain, when I enter into painful situations, and when I go into places that are unfamiliar and frightening.
My prayers will become less automatic, less rote (by memory, instead of from the heart), and more authentic. Joy will feel deeper, and while pain will not disappear, I will know that I have a companion who knows my pain, has compassion for me, and loves me profoundly.