I’ve been known to occasionally miss the moment when it happens. If my last devotional was any indication, I am sometimes too stuck to my phone and miss what’s happening around me. My wife calls it selective listening, hearing only what I want to, but I choose to refer to it more accurately as half-engaged listening, hearing only half of what is said. It’s less a choice and more a default, something I’ve been trying to fix for years.
I’ve been able to narrow down what’s at the root of my problem, and it’s that I am not fully present in the moment. What exactly does that mean, though? How is it that my mind is elsewhere, not fully engaged with what is happening, and how can I change that? A recent trend has labeled this corrective practice as “mindfulness,” the basic human ability to be fully present, being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It means experiencing everything that is currently happening to you and around you, with a mind towards the present moment.
Thinking that this movement sounded kind of hippy-dippy to me, I took a class to look much more into it, and I discovered that it’s way more than yoga and meditation. Instead, it’s a heightened awareness of the present moment by being fully engaged in it, thus experiencing everything that it has to offer you. Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh summed up this practice succinctly: “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” Or to put it another way, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” as stated by the late 80’s philosopher Ferris Bueller.
In this class, we participated in various exercises that engaged our senses with the present moment. One such exercise was eating raisins. For years, I have been criticized by many that I eat much too fast. As such, I don’t savor my food, a desire I long for. This exercise forced us to slow down our eating by having a handful of raisins to eat, but we were only allowed to eat one raisin at a time. We were then told to make observations about the textures, the smells, the tastes, and the varied flavors, making us more engaged in the present and not thinking about anything but what we were doing at that moment. It forced us to slow down and be present in what was happening – eating the raisins – and less focused on the outcome – finishing the raisins. Try it, and you’ll be surprised by how much you’re missing in life by moving too fast through it.
So why practice mindfulness and how does it fit into our faith? If we become more fully engaged in the present, we learn to experience and appreciate all that God is doing. We learn to slow down and recognize God in the details of our world. Paying closer attention to what God is doing in our lives and how we are working for and against it helps us to better align ourselves to what his plan is for us. We pay more attention to our current state, noticing what we are thinking and feeling, and through a heightened awareness, coming to a conclusion as to why we are thinking and feeling that way. We are able to refocus ourselves on what God desires for us, and we in turn appreciate and grow closer to Him as a result. Worries about the past and future fall to the wayside as we focus on the present and fully engage in it.
And there are strong biblical foundations in mindfulness. Repeatedly, God asks us to, “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3.2), citing a desire for us to control where our mind is at. We are asked to be in the present: “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6.34). And God asks us to rise above and “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12.2), which is accomplished through a stronger awareness.
Yet mindfulness also has its detractors, but many of those detractions are set in myths and misunderstandings of what mindfulness is. Mindfulness isn’t about “fixing” yourself; it’s about being aware of who you are and seeking God for help. Mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts and ignoring the future; it’s feeling His current presence and trusting Him with your future. Mindfulness does not belong to a religion like Buddhism; it is practice based in thinking and action that is no more religious than breathing. Mindfulness is not an escape from reality; it is an embracing of who you are at this time. Mindfulness is not a panacea; it’s not going to cure all your ills – it’s a path towards better living. And the ultimate goal of mindfulness isn’t meant to be stress reduction; it’s to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Through this heightened awareness, we come to better appreciate and understand His plan and kingdom, embracing what He is offering us at this moment.
Mother Teresa once said that “each moment is all we need, not more.” Knowing that God created this moment for you helps you to be mindful of what it is He has planned for you. Mindfulness is not about living for the moment but living in it, gaining an awareness of it with an eternal perspective. By being mindful, you can appreciate, love, and learn not only what God has created for you but also why He did so. This week, find ways to appreciate and engage the moment, renewing your mind and heightening your senses with an awareness of where you are, which will help you in turn with where you’d like to be. Amen.