As I am observing my pattern of mindfulness, I am learning that I often am more mindful of things that annoy me, people that offend me, inconveniences I must suffer at inopportune times. It is too easy for my mind to feast on these things. But mindfulness is a terrible thing to waste...
I have been reading some eastern thinkers on the practice of mindfulness, intentionally thinking about some things - or not thinking of them at all. And one striking possibility is that we can train our mind to think differently, to be mindful of better things. One recent challenge has been to not think about my frustrations as much as feel them. So when anger ignites - feel the emotion without thinking about it, why I am angry, why I am justified in my anger, why someone else should validate my anger... simply feel it. Hold the fiery sensation for a moment without thinking... and then exhale. Sounded odd to me at first, until I began to practice being mindful about my anger. It is a challenge to mind my emotions, really. And I am learning something about what emotions most readily ignite in me and how I try to justify them. I guess it is an internal mindfulness I am leaning into these days.
There is another related practice that comes from the Dali Lama, via my friend Jennifer. He is talking about how to cope with negativity, and he recommends that when we feel a negative sensation to associate a positive thought (this is a poor paraphrase, I admit). So when I lock my nightstand drawer, then lock my bedroom door, then lock the desk drawer and then the kitchen door before locking the front door of our home... instead of getting exasperated, I can think about locking up resentments power in my life. And when I come home and unlock the front door, the kitchen door, the desk drawer, the bedroom door and then the nightstand drawer I can, each time, think about unlocking God's liberating goodness for the Batwa in Burundi. It is being mindful each time I have a key in hand to lock and unlock certain things, rather than to be half-hazard and feel annoyed. But since I have determined to do this - it is amazing how many times I am all the way through the ritual of locking doors before I am re-minded to lock up resentment! I am learning how often I function on auto-pilot and am not mindful at all. I guess that is why we practice!
Today I was reading a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, and she mentioned mindfulness as well. She frames it as paying attention to the world around us. Listening to the crickets singing wildly in the shadow of the sunset (as I am doing now), watching the red-breasted bird pick at my arugula, inhale the spicy aroma from the neighbors outdoor kitchen and identify the spices as they linger in the air... paying attention to the world around me. She comments on how this opens the door to God interacting with us in new ways, outside the walls of the church building, when we have a posture of attention. This is a way to embrace the world God has made and has set us in. She also connects attention with reverence... one often opens the door to the other. When we pay attention to the world and to people, we are often humbled and moved to reverence for God and His handiwork.
So many of the things I have been reading lately point to mindfulness... training our mind to be more attentive and more reverent. I remember Paul's admonition to the Philippian church to 'set your mind on these things...' to practice thinking of better things, higher things, God-given things. So I am trying to live this out, to practice mindfulness in my life. I am trying to cultivate a holy attentiveness to the world God has set me in this season.
P.S. Tonight Claude and I are flying to Johannesburg for a reunion of friends... the 3rd annual Amahoro Gathering. There is nothing as sweet as the joy of reunion and the opportunity to begin new friendships rooted in Christ and His transforming work across the world. As an introvert entering an extroverted environment, I will aim to be attentive to the joys, the laughter, the beauty in each person God brings into view. And if I don't have any space to myself in the next few days - I don't think I will mind!