So why do mindfulness?? Just in case you’re not familiar with what it is about let’s use American researcher Ellen Langer’s definition, “It is the simple act of actively noticing” she says. Another secular mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness is a universal capacity that has the power to reduce stress, depression and even physical pain. Therefore, along with many, I am a big fan of mindfulness, the therapeutic benefits are well proven and have worked personally for myself too.
However, whilst it is central to Buddhist practice and finds a place in Christian tradition, it has in the West been detached from any ‘spiritual’ context. I think this is something that needs reconsidering, not least by Western Christianity which prioritises the intellect and activity over holism and receptivity (but that’s another blog!). Right now I’m more interested in how mindfulness can be ‘spiritual’ for the everyday person who isn’t a churchgoer, as I do believe mindfulness can be a route to spiritual encounter and growth.
I personally came to faith as a young adult through my own mindful perusal of the everyday. I remember contemplatively gazing at the stars, secretly smoking cigarettes against the backdrop of the beautiful Malvern hills and playing my soulful music on my ‘walkman’! I also became aware of my inner self and the uncertainty, the questions and the search that was within me. I now realise I was simply being mindful, although I didn’t know that term back then. By ‘being with’ these inner experiences as well as ‘being with’ the outer beauty my mindful awareness sensed that there was more, a transcendent dimension to life. I suppose I can say I had a ‘mindful’ path to faith. The beauty of it was that it took account of me, who I really was and went at the pace that felt right. Being mindfully aware of myself, others, the world around me and of God continues to be vital to my spiritual health, so I encourage you to start actively noticing things and be open to any sense of the transcendent or God and perhaps it might engage you on the most peace-giving and fulfilling (and also challenging!) journey you might ever go on!