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Mindfulness: What is It and Why We Need to Practice It

While I was considering a topic for this blog post I was having a conversation with a youth minister. I mentioned that it was Friday and that I was excited about the upcoming weekend. His response was “It’s all the same to me since I work every day.” He even went on to say that “his office was his second home and he often just stayed the night there.” While I totally understand that ministry is important work, his response made me feel sad and I can’t help but think that it makes God feel sad too. After all, even Jesus took time away from “work” to rest. How can we be who our young people need us to be if do not make time to care for ourselves? This is the time of year when many parish youth ministries are gearing up for a new school year. Often times this means scheduling more activities, parent meetings, finding volunteers, and frankly more stress. How will you manage the stresses in your life? How will you model a healthy lifestyle for the young people you minister with?

Mindfulness is a term used often in meditation, contemplation, and centering practices. But what does it mean and how is it beneficial to us. Personally, I understand mindfulness as showing up fully for what is in front of me (the present moment) without trying to fix, change, or judge it. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present moment.” Having awareness of the present moment engages us and roots us in the here and now. The best example I have come across to explain the meaning of the “here and now” is to consider the present moment as the only real experience of time we have. The past has already happened and the future has yet to happen but the present moment is happening now. The present moment therefore, is the only real and tangible moment in time we can experience. Another way to understand this idea is to acknowledge that we can’t change our actions of the past and we can’t predict how we will react in the future but we can decide how we want to respond in this moment of time. In our CMD YouthLeader program we teach teens the importance of living “proactive.” Meaning, to recognize that we are responsible for how we react in a particular moment and that we are also responsible for our actions. In order to accomplish proactive living, one must be self-aware or mindful.

Practicing mindfulness is an opening to what is true for you and about you, having courage to be honest and be who you are in every moment, to follow your heart, to listen to and act on the promptings of the spirit. The more we listen to and trust what comes from within, the stronger this relationship becomes. We start to know this relationship as grace. Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

When we are mindful, we are able to more clearly observe our thoughts and feelings related to those thoughts. By watching the musings of our mind, we are better able to understand that we are so much more than just our thoughts. Through mindfulness exercises, we can begin to recognize patterns (positive and negative) in our thoughts and behaviors. In particular, through mindfulness we can monitor and even reduce our responses to stress. It is no secret that the average person has a great deal of stress in their lives. Everything from traffic, work, finances, and even our relationships with others can cause us stress. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies and their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.

Below are a few simple mindfulness techniques to explore for yourself:

  1. Mindfulness Eating: Next time you sit down for a meal try to do so away from your television or computer. Slow down your eating and “savor” every bite. Take time to enjoy your food. Too often we shovel food into our mouths without actually being grateful for the blessing of food.
  2. Practice the simple meditation of watching your breath. Find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes, close your eyes and focus on the inhale and exhale of your breath. Try to keep your mind on just this one task of watching your breath and If possible, sit for at least three minutes. At the end of your mindfulness practice, say a prayer of gratitude for the gift of your breath.
  3. Take a mindfulness outdoor break- especially if you’re inside all day sitting behind a computer or a desk. Schedule ten-minute breaks to go outside and feel the fresh air on your skin. You could go for a walk or just sit and be aware of the sensations of God’s creation around you. Smell the air, feel the sunshine or even rain on your skin and just enjoy time away from the stress of your work. After a mindfulness break you will return refreshed and more relaxed and able to focus more on the task you need to accomplish. Just remember, a mindfulness break is not checking your social media accounts, hunting Pokémon, or surfing the web on your phone.

Practicing daily exercises in mindfulness helps increase our ability to be patient, helps us to be comfortable with silence, reduces our unhealthy stress, and opens us to the simple joys in life.

 

Prayer for Mindfulness

We pray for mindfulness,
For the attentiveness
That leads to discernment
of God’s will and God’s ways.

We pray for mindfulness
Of our own hearts and minds.
Help us to be aware
Of how we react in thought,
Speech and action.
Help us to be aware
How we can
Always be open to the grace
That can shape us in new ways.

We pray for mindfulness
Of what is happening to others.
Help us to be present
To their sorrow and suffering.
Help us to be aware
Of the injustices that
Touch other lives.

We pray for mindfulness
To be aware of how God
Is calling us
to be agents for peace and justice.
Help us to be aware
Of the words we are called to speak,
Of the actions we are called to take part in,
Of the compassion we are called to offer
In a world so wounded, so in need.

Note: Pope Paul VI’s Declaration of the Church on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), 1965, acknowledges the wisdom in the Buddhist tradition, which includes a focus on mindfulness and compassion. Thomas Merton was among the first of many Christians who have found these values consistent with a spirituality of solidarity.

Source for prayer: https://educationforjustice.org/resources/prayer-mindfulness

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