Practicing Christian Mindfulness

December 2nd, 2019
This article is featured in the Intentional Spirituality (Nov/Dec/Jan 2019-20) issue of Circuit Rider

Christian mindfulness practice is rooted in the most basic witness of Jesus: God with us, right here, right now. Jesus proclaims, The reign of God is at hand! here, now available for all, if we pay attention. Or, as Jesus says, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. If we are mindful. To live out the reign of God requires mindful lives, intentionally aware in each present moment of God’s life and mission in the world. Christian mindfulness, then, is an anchoring practice, a way to abide in Christ…

We can expect to experience real differences in our lives as a result of practicing gospel mindfulness. The Christian life is not an idea, a disembodied set of thoughts one must think each day. The Christian life is a way of life, a way of being and doing in the world. In fact, the New Testament calls it “the way.” That means we take up practices and patterns of life, like mindfulness, through which we are formed more and more into Christlikeness, and, with God, bear fruit for the world.

Mindfulness practice actually changes our minds, changes our brains and consciousness over time. It is self-reinforcing. Our neuro-pathways are rutted with conditioned reactions and responses. Mindfulness practice rewires these rutted neuropathways, creating new ones. These actual physical changes in our brains and bodies begin to mark our lives in concrete ways.

Christian mindfulness offers many benefits, including improved mental and physical health, better discernment of God’s voice, and a deeper spiritual life.

The Basics of Mindfulness Practice

The starting place for Christian mindfulness practice is right here, right now. You have everything you need to get started: your breath, your body and God’s presence. Read through the four steps below, then put the book down and try it.

1. Attentive Breathing (30 seconds)

First, breathe slowly and deeply. As you breathe, notice your breathing, the feel of your chest as it rises and falls, the sensation of air in your nose and lungs. Take your time to breathe in and out purposefully. Fully experience your body breathing. This first step you already do as a gift God has given you. You do not have to choose each time you take a breath. Your body chooses that for you! You can choose to breathe in an attentive and mindful way.

"Right Here Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness" by Amy G. Oden. Order here:

2. Attentive Embodiment (30 seconds)

Continue to breathe mindfully and let your breathing fill your whole body. Visualize the oxygen filling your lungs, then your torso, then your arms and legs, providing life-giving oxygen throughout your bloodstream from the tip of your head down to your toes. Focus your attention as you continue breathing, noticing what arises in your body—sensations or feelings, perhaps a tightness here or a warm tingle there. Simple noticing is all that is required. Don’t analyze, justify, or fix any of these sensations. Christians believe our bodies are blessed, consecrated by God who became flesh to dwell with us. Our en-flesh-ment connects us to God who meets us where we are, in our bodies, right here, right now.

3. Acknowledgment (30 seconds)

Third, acknowledge whatever arises from your mindful breathing and embodiment. Acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, sensations or attitudes that are in you right now. Whether it is positive or negative, whether you like it or don’t like it, acknowledge what is. We spend a lot of energy every day trying to avoid, deny, repress or reject what is actually happening in our bodies. In this moment acknowledge what is there, arising in your breathing and embodiment. Some call this nonjudgmental observing. Others call it prayerful attentiveness. A common method for acknowledgment is to visualize each thing that arises as a boat floating down a river. You see it and acknowledge it is there, and let it float right on by without stopping to get on the boat or to rifle through its cargo.

To be clear, your acknowledgment does not mean that you must accept any harmful or unjust situation, only the thoughts or feelings that arise, recognizing each is there.

This step of mindfulness is an invitation to step out of the cycle of reactivity that often drives thoughts and behaviors. Not only are we prone to reactivity, but the world around us often eggs it on. Instead of reacting to what arises in our breathing and body, the step of acknowledgment allows us to see the truth of what is and hold it before God.

This is the paying prayerful attention part of Christian mindfulness. We pay prayerful attention to what is with an open heart to discover what God might be up to. We are open to discovery more than judgment, to listening more than speaking. As you hold all that arises before God, let God hold it with you. God is right here, right now, in your breathing and embodiment. As you acknowledge what is, also acknowledge God’s sharing in it with you.

If you wish, visualize yourself with Jesus, together holding what you have noticed. Experience God’s loving gaze upon it all in this moment.

4. Discovery (30 seconds)

As you acknowledge whatever arises, holding it within God’s presence, see what you discover. Do thoughts or feelings shift shapes? Increase or diminish? Does a sensation move elsewhere in your body? Does a thought or attitude disappear altogether like a boat floating away? Again, the point here is to notice and acknowledge what you discover, not to analyze, judge, or process it. Simple noticing is the main work of mindfulness. However, noticing requires being present (steps 1 and 2) first.

Reminder

You cannot fail. There is no wrong answer. Whatever arises is what you notice and acknowledge, held simply before God. You do not have to understand, change, or act upon anything. Step into prayerful acknowledgment of what is right here, right now, with God.

Try It

Walk through the four steps. As a beginner, the whole thing should take about two minutes. It’s fine if your mind wanders. Bring it back gently to the next step. After you have done this practice fifty times or so, your mind will wander less and less.

Keep Trying It

Experiment wherever you are—at a stoplight, in the elevator, shopping online—using the four steps of basic Christian mindfulness.


This article was excerpted from Right Here Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness (Abingdon Press, 2017). Printed with permission. All rights reserved.

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