Mindfulness is a type of meditation. Often when Christians hear the term “meditation,” they take a step back because of its connection to eastern religions. It is not a substitute for a Christian’s prayer life. In fact, it has nothing to do with prayer. Mindfulness is simply a discipline of relaxation that can be greatly enhanced by prayer. We are not called to check our brains at the door as Christians. If something is Biblical and it works, it is obvious that the power comes from God. Jesus talked often about living “in the present,” the main principle of Mindfulness (See Matthew 6.25-34).
This concentration on experiencing “the present” is the basis for Mindfulness. Mindfulness takes the focus of living in the present and intensifies that concept down to living “in the moment.” It is a specific type of meditation that works incredibly well for many issues, especially those containing a shared component of anxiety. It has been used to treat everything from erectile dysfunction to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mindfulness works by grounding ourselves in the present moment, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically, thus flooding the mind with positive feelings and thoughts in the moment that replace or push out anxious feelings and thoughts. The mind is “filled” with the positive, leaving no room for things such as fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness. An easy way to remember this is to think of it as: “mind” “full” “ness,” or filling your mind with the types of thoughts and feelings that God chooses for you, that bring joy, peace, contentment. With practice, one can become adept at getting back to a state of relaxation very quickly.
An important aspect of Mindfulness is nonjudgment and compassion; yet another Biblical principle. Our normal impulse is to try to drive fear, anxiety, etc. from our minds rather than simply leaning into them with a gentle acceptance of them. These intrusive thoughts can’t be controlled, but they can be overshadowed and temporarily obliterated.
Everyone has experienced these unpleasant thought patterns and feelings. This thinking has variously been called ruminating, catastrophizing, racing thoughts, meta-thinking, and awfulizing. My favorite is the highly clinical term “monkeybraining.” This type of thinking leads to increased anxiety from a phenomenon called “meta-anxiety” or anxiety about anxiety. When we practice Mindfulness regularly, we learn to quickly break this cycle and control anxiety.
We replace anxious thoughts rather than trying to combat them. There are principles of reasoning that we use before the negative anxiogenic (anxiety-causing) feelings hit, so that we are ready to focus on the moment rather than do battle with our minds. The reasoning comes ahead of practicing Mindfulness so that we can completely focus on being “in the moment.” There are some basic tenets that we can review to prepare ourselves for being able to live fully in the moment.
A few of these are:
This moment is the only one in which we are alive.
Our feelings, thoughts, and stories are not who we are; our identity is in Christ.
Mindfulness is always in the present moment, and even our thoughts about the present moment are one step removed from the present moment.
We have the potential to become bigger than any problem, any pain, and God is even much, much bigger than that.
Mindfulness naturally and inevitably leads to compassion.
Change results not from becoming someone different, but from being simply the way God designed you to be.
The stories we tell ourselves, even if they are true, get between us and healing and peace.
Accepting something does not mean we like it, but that we are open to the fullness of its reality.
Seeing the big picture will always reduce fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness.
Our experience cannot be other than what is, and because our experience cannot be other than what is, judgment clouds what is.
Our thoughts about what should be cause much more suffering than what is.
In addition to thinking about these and other statements, praying at the instant that anxiety hits, before we transition into “the moment” greatly enhances our ability to overcome the negative feelings and thoughts. It focuses God’s power upon our decision to be in the moment.
Ten keys to understanding and preparing to be mindful:
ATTITUDE: Your attitude about practicing mindfulness should not be too idealistic or too cynical. Being childlike or the “don’t know it all attitude” is best.
CURIOSITY: Cultivate the interest and desire to discover something more about yourself and your life as it unfolds, even in the unpleasant and difficult moments.
DETERMINATION: To benefit, you have to practice mindfulness faithfully and regularly. You don’t have to like it, but you do need to do it!
BELIEF: This means developing confidence in your ability to allow God to help you in managing fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness in your life; a belief in His healing power.
NONJUDGMENT: Be aware of making judgments about situations, thoughts, feelings.
PATIENCE: Things will unfold in God’s perfect timing.
TRUST: Trust yourself, trust your feelings, because you trust God.
NONSTRIVING: Sometimes you must back off from your personal goals and let God’s plan and movement toward them unfold.
ACCEPTANCE: Accept your uniqueness, your place in God’s universe, your value and worth to God.
LETTING GO: Let go of everything outside of your own boundaries that you cannot direct, manage, or control. Give them over completely to God and do not take them back.