The Mindful Christian
Ever driven home and realised your mind wasn’t on the road? Or scoffed down your breakfast thinking about the 39 next things you need to do before you leave the house? Yeah, your mind and body are in different places. Mind-less driving and eating you might say.
Compare that to the time you were captivated, immersed in your favourite piece of music, or the time you were chatting over dinner with your bestie and there was no-where in the world you’d rather be. Those are the mind-ful times; when your mind, body and soul are all FULLY present.
There seems to be some scepticism amongst Christians when it comes to the practice of mindfulness, perhaps there’s some concern that it’s derived from other religions, or from atheism. And true, some other religions do practice a version of mindfulness. But lets not shy away from God’s good gifts because other people have discovered them too. All ‘mindfulness’ really means is to be fully conscious of one thing at a time, or to be fully engaged in the present moment, rather than having your growing to-do list or your escalating worries constantly on your mind. Check out the graphic.
Can you relate?
The thing that maintains many of the anxious and depressive disorders I treat in my psychology practice is a busy and stressed brain that has been running (poorly) in overdrive for too long. Many
of my clients report that the picture on the left is how they have lived for a long time. Most have trouble concentrating, remembering, and feeling calm. Not surprising really. It's hard to do 50 things at once, and even harder to do any of them well. And then when things aren’t done well over time we tend to get sad about that. Then we get so sad that we get worried about how sad we are.
It’s a recipe for anxiety and depression. So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is conscious awareness of your present environment,with openness and interest. You can practice mindfulness just by connecting yourself to where you are. What can you see right now? What can you hear? What does the carpet feel like on your feet? Don't worry about judging or evaluating anything. Just ‘be’, and notice. It’s quite peaceful, really. If an alternative thought wiggles its way into your mindful time, just notice that it showed up, and let it drift off again. “Huh, I’m starting to think about my to do list. Not to worry, back to what I can see and feel.”One fun mindfulness activity is to ‘scan’ your body and be deliberately thoughtful about everything you can feel. “I can feel the doona on the tips of my toes. I can feel my knees touching together. I can feel the weight of my body through my back onto the mattress.”(Yeps, I’m lying in bed. But I’m doing it MINDFULLY, so it’s totally ok 😀 ) How is anxiety and depression different? Anxiety primarily manifests when thoughts are *future* focused:‘How will this turn out? What if I can’t cope? What if it goes wrong? Will I know anyone? Where am I going to sit? What if people noticeI’m a failure?’ Depression primarily manifests when thoughts are *past* focused: ‘I should have done that differently, life was better then, gee I really stuffed that up, she didn’t even look at me, today was unthinkably sad’. Many studies show that it is almost impossible to feel anxious or depressed while being mindful (try it, it’s pretty interesting), largely because the active regions in the brain are different for accessing memories in the past, thoughts about the future, and noticing the present. So mindfulness not only gives an immediate holiday from anxiety and depression, but practicing it over time also builds the mind’s ‘fitness’ for staying healthily present-focused. What are the benefits of mindfulness? Mindfulness calms and regulates you both physically and emotionally (and potentially spiritually depending on your focus.) Mindfulness practiced over time has been shown not only to reduce anxiety and depression, but reduce stress, reduce pain, enhance concentration,enhance memory, and enrich relationships. Wanna cut your medical bills? Get mindful. Right, so can I be a mindful Christian? Well, yes! Turns out mindfulness is a part of the Christian life.Mindfulness isn’t a secular concept that we’re trying to adapt with a Christian spin, it’s part of God's good design for us to be healthy and have sound minds (2 Tim 1:7). God’s word encourages us to give some thoughts to the past (by remembering what God has done) and future (living wisely by planning well, waiting expectantly for heaven) but warns us not to live in places of depression and anxiety:
‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
‘Do not to be anxious about anything’ (Philippians 4:6)
‘Do not worry about your life.’ (Matt 6:25ff)
‘Cast all your anxiety on Him.’ (1Peter 5:6).
One way that God commands us to be mindful is when He tells us to give thanks. If you’re thankful for things that are happening right now. You’re being mindful. “Thank you God for my toes wiggling in the sand, thank you for the sight of the blue sky, thank you for these eggs from the chooks, thank you for loving me, thank you for the laughter of my family, thank you for my pillow.” Mindfulness increases not only your own mental, emotional, physical and potentially spiritual health, but prepares you for more godly interactions with others. If you are mentally and emotionally well,then you’re more likely to represent Christ as you embody patience and peace. You can be mindful of Scripture too. Just read or say a verse to yourself, and let it sink in. Don't analyse or critique. Just listen. Just be. Let that verse be your present reality. 'Be still, and know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10) Be still, and know that I am God. Be still, and know that I am God. Notice that the command to be still comes after saying that God is our strength, God is our refuge, God is the warrior, The Lord Almighty is with us. We really don't need to worry, or fuss. God is in control. We can be still. We can be mindful. Psalm 46 (NESB) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Kylie is a Christian Psychologist whose client demographic includes perpetrators and survivors of Family Violence. Kylie is a graduate of SMBC.