“I was living in San Francisco and had built a successful career in sales. But I was depressed and anxious and at night I partied recklessly, abusing drugs and alcohol. Eventually my despair and shame grew so deep that I isolated myself from my family and friends and lost myself in my addictive behaviors. I thought, since I was managing to succeed at work, I was in control of my self-abusive behavior. But one night, after many hours of partying, I saw the truth of who I had become and realized I was throwing away my life and I was determined to transform myself. As for so many others, it was mindfulness practice that turned things around for me.” – “Uncovering Happiness” by Elisha Goldstein
Mindfulness taught Elisha how to work with his depressive tendencies and not get hooked nearly so often on self-judgments and negative thoughts. It can do the same for anyone willing to learn and practice it. But mindfulness is so much more than relief from depression. And in case you think mindfulness practice is limited to just a few people, here are some public examples of mindfulness advocates. Dan Harris, anchor of ABC News Nightline, and the Weekend Edition of Good Morning America, recently wrote a book about his breakdown and how mindfulness healed him. Wall Street brokers are practicing mindfulness to lower stress levels and promote creativity. About 100 members of the British Houses of Parliament have taken a mindfulness course. Google employees practice mindfulness and Google has even given my church a grant because I teach mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, author and mindfulness pioneer, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” If you’ve ever driven home lost in thought, not noticing your surroundings until you arrived home, you know how easy it is to not be mindful. Running on autopilot, we can go through our days and nights without being present. This same autopilot mechanism makes us react to people and circumstances in repetitive ways.
For many of us, the biggest advantage to learning mindfulness is that it quiets the activity in the mind; the constant analyzing and ruminating thought stream that can run 24-7. The more we practice, the more gaps occur in our thought stream. And then, as writer Ira Israel puts it, “we can learn (although in the beginning only for brief instances ) to dis-identify with our thoughts, observe them non-judgmentally, and thus avoid letting them drag us around as if they were wild horses and we were helpless cowboys trying to rein them in.”
So How About Now?
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere at any time, and in fact, the more you practice, the more you are mindful and present in the moment. There are really only 3 things we need to remember:
- Breathe. Breathe and pay attention to your breathing. Feel it in your body. Ultimately, the breath will become the trigger to your mind to slow down and get into the moment. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” Matthew 6:34 MSG
2-Observe. Watch the thoughts going through your mind. See how they string together without stopping, how the same thoughts can cycle and recycle.
3- Non-judge all these thoughts as you remain relaxed and focused. Observe them coming and going and let them pass without judgment. Come back to the breath each time thoughts take you away.
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of California, and Harvard University are only a few of the many organizations that have documented the benefits of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is good for our bodies by boosting our immune system’s ability to fight off illness, it reduces stress and anxiety, decreases depression, increases positive emotions, improves memory and focus, enhances relationships, and encourages healthy eating. It helps children get better grades and has helped veterans recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Spiritually, the practice of mindfulness will make room in us for Spirit and for the inspiration that comes from beyond the human mind. We will see with clarity how our minds have been conditioned since birth, making us react in the same ways over and over. Mindfulness will help us disentangle our true identity as the Christ consciousness from the ego. It will create in us a new mind and a new heart, so that we can show kindness and compassion to ourselves and all the other inhabitants of planet Earth.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” -2 Corinthians 5:17