How do we bring the benefits of centering prayer or meditation out into the rest of our lives? Usually if we are doing centering prayer or meditation on a regular basis, we begin to see the fruits in our lives. We slowly become more loving, more tolerant, more able to cope with difficulties, and more able to let go of having everything our own way. However, we can sometimes be shocked by how quickly we can go from being loving, calm, and centered in our practice to frantic and impatient in our daily lives.
Mindfulness is a way of bringing our meditation into our daily lives. It’s a way of remaining in the here and now. Often we are lost in our thoughts, stuck in the past or racing ahead to plan the future, anywhere except here in the present. When we are mindful, we are physically present in our bodies, aware of our breath going in and out, fully aware of the activity in which we are engaged, accepting where we are rather than wishing or pretending we are elsewhere.
When we are mindful, we accept where we are, even when we are engaged in mundane or even unpleasant tasks. When we accept what is, it becomes easier to maintain a relaxed, meditative state, feeling more alive and closer to God.
Mindfulness is a word that is often associated with Buddhism, and in particular with the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Prize for his work in the peace movement during the Vietnam war. Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, is a good introduction to the concept of mindfulness. In it, he describes how we should wash the dishes not in order to have clean dishes but in order to wash the dishes:
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -- and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
While the word mindfulness is usually associated with the Buddhist tradition, the concept is found in other faiths. In the Christian tradition, St. Augustine reminds us that God is to be found in the present moment, yet we are too often separated from God by our attachments to things past and future: “In the sublimity of an eternity which is always in the present, you, God, are before all things past and transcend all things future.”
In Matthew 6:28-34, Jesus reminds us not to worry about tomorrow, but to try to be present now in the kingdom of God:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
For further reading about the relationship between the Buddhist concept of mindfulness and the Christian Holy Spirit, see Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ.