I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Amy Oden’s reflection “Christian Mindfulness Practice.”
It started with the hunger I heard around me for more authentic, rooted, present lives. Seminary students and church folks, directees and retreat participants, all longing to be present in their actual lives instead of rushing from one thing to the next. They were hungry for lives less curated and edited and more authentic and real. I began to trace two thousand years of Christian mindfulness practice as a doorway into present, authentic lives.
What I didn’t expect was that, in the midst of my explorations, my husband would be diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia, a journey that took us both into living deeply with God in the present moment, because the present was the only moment we had. Especially for me, Christian mindfulness practice became an invitation to see and receive what is in this moment instead of what wasn’t or what I had expected for this season of our lives. As I lost more and more of my husband and the life we’d known together, mindfulness became a way to live the dementia journey deeply and not miss a moment along the way.
Getting Started: 4 Step Mindfulness Practice
We have everything we need to get started, our breath and our body. Think of this 4 step practice like a recipe, a method to experiment and play with.
- Attentive Breathing
- Attentive Embodiment
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.
2. 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 blood stream 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. Acknowledgement (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 non-judgmental observing. Others call it prayerful attentiveness.
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 acknowledgement 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? See what you discover with God.
So dive in! Step into prayerful acknowledgement of what is right here, right now, with God.
(some sections adapted from Amy’s book, Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017)
Born and raised on the prairies of Oklahoma, Amy Oden has found her spiritual home under the wide-open sky. Amy is a seminary professor, retreat leader and spiritual director. Her passion is introducing ancient practices for following Jesus into the world today. For more about Amy, go to amyoden.com.