Mindfulness: Learning all our Lives

Yesterday in the Guardian Suzanne Moore published an article critical of contemporary attitudes to mindfulness (see here). I agree with much of what she said, although as a Benedictine, I might argue that mindfulness is as much a Christian as Buddhist concept (cf RB7. 10–18). As always, the problem is managing the imbalance between expectation and the effort to be expended. In the West we want instant everything. The idea of growth — often slow, sometimes painful and uncertain — is more and more alien to us. Indeed, we often talk about growth when what we really mean is success, measured in predominantly economic terms. This spills over into the moral and spiritual sphere and often leads to discouragement. We want to be people of peace, for example, but as our desire for peace grows, so does our awareness of just how angry and unpeaceful we are. We consider ourselves failures because we are not what we set out to be, not realising that to become people of peace we must first plumb the depths of our own lack of peace.

The practice of mindfulness, which for a Christian must always be the practice of mindfulness of the presence of God, is not something we learn in a few hours or even a few years. It is a lifetime’s work, and it is not to be rushed or short-circuited in any way. People are sometimes amazed when I say that I had lived as a nun for eighteen years before I was allowed to give my first talk. There had been literally years of preparation: living the daily life of the cloister, with its regular round of prayer, work and study, before I said a word about it. That preparation was (and remains) essential. Beware the expert on monasticism who pontificates after only a brief submersion in its waters!

You may think it all very well for monastics to be proponents of slow growth and so on and so forth, but for those of us who live busy and time-poor lives it is a different matter. We need results! We need to calm mind and heart quickly and get to the centre of things. My answer would be that you are already at the centre of things, you don’t need to ‘get’ anywhere. What you may need to do is take your eyes off yourself, stop trying to measure your spiritual ‘success’ and simply enjoy, yes enjoy! the time you spend with the Lord, be it little or long. Preparing for prayer, being ready to give time to it, is important, but don’t worry about techniques or methods. No technique can substitute for a heart willing to learn and open to the love God is eager to pour into it.

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13 thoughts on “Mindfulness: Learning all our Lives”

  1. I would agree, we might argue that mindfulness is as much a Christian as Buddhist concept, but as you say for Christians it can only be the practice of mindfulness of the presence of God as God is the eternal moment.

  2. Thank you for such encouraging words. I shall now try to stop feeling guilty and try to enjoy prayer time, however brief.

  3. Great thought Sister!
    I find the “instant results” attitude in people “fired up” to do the Lord’s work many times to be a bit of a hindrance rather than a asset. It is difficult to undo negative public responses when wrong, misquoted, or incomplete information is used as a rallying point. Any effort to confront a serious problem shifts to the veracity of the person or group. Whether it is for peace, justice, “apologetics”, or even Catholic practices there is much to be said in taking ones time, getting to know the whole story or as much as possible, seek advise, and prayer/ contemplation. Nothing wrong with a “full-mindness” approach to be on solid ground.

  4. Your article on Christian mindfulness is essential in spiritual growth an faith. It not nourishes us but the Christian community through prayer, lectio divina, but also through our regularly participating in the Eucharist

    • I think a few words may be missing from your comment; but I entirely agree with you about the importance of the Sacraments in nourishing faith. The sad thing is, many Catholics (including cloistered nuns) now do not have regular access to the Mass.

  5. I have recently had quite a lot of exposure to the rather peculiar (to me) notion of mindfulness in the corporate environment. I don’t quite know if its good or bad that the company knows we are all so stressed out and frazzled that we need to focus on being mindful of ourselves and our teams, and not just the work.

    It would be nice to be rather more mindful of God at work (especially when my patience is pushed past its limits) but somehow he doesn’t come to mind very often in the frantic chaos of each day. I suspect you know just what I mean…

    • I suspect I do. 🙂
      A few years ago it was fashionable to use St Benedict’s Rule as a management development tool. Hearing it translated into business-speak sometimes made me shudder, but I think some people did genuinely benefit from thinking about their work in the light of his remarks about community, fairness and so on.

  6. D. Catherine, Thank you! This is really splendid and much needed, and would very much love to have you write more on this subject. I remember years ago when working in a bookstore, picking up a book by Thick Nhat Hahn, and while I had no interest in Buddhism, I was struck by his words on mindfulness and how much they resonated with me. Sometime later, as I understood the Benedictine way more, I found there the Christian application of mindfulness and it was this very thing that attracted me to Benedictine spirituality. That said, I still find I must daily practice this and your post today as been very helpful- However, and I know I am being greedy, MORE PLEASE!

  7. I couldn’t link to the original article, so what I say is based on Sr. Catherine’s blog. I agree that much of passes as “mindfulness” is really mindfulness “lite!” If you go back to the Buddha’s sutra on mindfulness, you will see that it is as far from “instant” practice as could be! The Buddhist community shuns the idea of “spiritual materialism,” or grasping at spiritual “progress,” just as Christians do. What the Buddha was teaching was being aware of living fully, deeply, grounded in our minds, hearts, and bodies. It is not a technique but part of a life path. It is about the NON-JUDGMENTAL recognizing and allowing of what IS in the present, not what we grasp at or avert from, not living in the past or the future. People of every or no faith can benefit from living in non-judgmental awareness. As a Christian, I know this to be true.

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