Here is a link to my video on cultivating resilience in a time of crisis.
Once upon a time this was my boat of anxiety with the light of mindfulness (and of God) shining on it. In fact the boat was me.
The boat was swamped with anxiety, beached with worry. The hull of my boat, which is as strong and as fragile as wood was collapsing, barely holding its shape.
I had no rudder, no sail, even if the wind was blowing and the currents flowing.
Anxious thoughts, like crows pecked at the rotting frame, as shame like worms ate away at the wood. Anxious feelings soaked into the hull, and weighed it down, stealing its strength.
Those of you who have experienced anxiety will recognise this, it doesn’t always help to have the condition explained in cold, logical, propositional language.
But in the corner of the boat I built a mindful nest, my breath, a prayer word, the practice of awareness. And then the swallows came, swooping in, and stayed making new thoughts that could fly free.
And then there came a desire for spring-cleaning, for restoration, for changing the structure and activity of the boat for better, as it was created to be. And one day the boat was drained, restored, painted, floating, able to catch the wind and the currents.
I did not just want to move from anxiety to inner freedom, although that is a good intention, a necessary intention. I wanted to become mindful of God, waiting for the wind and the currents of God’s Holy Spirit, that I do not control, but as a graced response I can be receptive and open too.
I know mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone. I’m grateful it worked for me. It might be for you – a boat yard of restoration.
I am writing this on the Camino Ingles, in Pontedeume, by the estuary of the river Eume. There are little rivulets, and wide open spaces, we can inhabit both. But first I had to step from the edge of hope, just one step into hope.
Do book on my retreat at Lee Abbey 14-18 November 2016!
A link to my video on You Tube about creativity, mindfulness of God and my new book Putting On The Wakeful One – attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness.
When I speak to people about mindfulness I find that most are in the position I was before I began researching mindfulness, they don’t have a clear map of understanding of how their mind works or how to train it.
One thing that mindfulness training offers is the best wisdom of cognitive psychology and neuroscience in giving us a clear map of our minds and how to train them.
In their book ‘ Mindfulness, a practical guide to Finding Peace In a Frantic World’ Mark Williams and Danny Penman ask the question, ‘Why do we attack ourselves?’ (15-31). In their book ‘Mindfulness for Health’ Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman talk about the ‘wild horses’ of the mind (53-75). That’s why I’ve used the title ‘how to train your dragon mind.’
What I’ve found is that helping people have a clear map of understanding how their mind works, and how to train it, is very liberating for people. Whether it is understanding the neuroplasticity of their brains and how they can lay down new neural pathways through mindful awareness or meditative practices; or their capacities for rational critical thinking and the doing mental gear, or the streams of awareness within them and the being mental gear.
Learning about our ability to both focus our attention and open our awareness, the importance of focusing on the present moment and having an attitude of that is compassionate, curious and non-judgemental – helps us put the jigsaw of our minds and bodies together, until finally we see the big picture. Seeing that big picture is often an epiphany moment, a charged moment of insight.
People are interested in mindfulness for health, as developed in secular psychology through treatments like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – and I talk to many who are intrigued by the Christian idea of mindfulness of God.
Mindfulness is also being used at work, in education and leadership and many other areas including sport, art, writing and music. Very good introductions to mindfulness are the two books I’ve mentioned above.
Having a clear map of understanding how your dragon mind works and how to train it, is, I think, one of the most important things we can do to open up our inner world, and the world around us, in a way that enables us to live life fully.
Dorothee Soelle has a beautiful phrase, ‘the ego is a concretization of God-forgetfulness.’ Not only that the ego is a concretization of other-forgetfulness, of creation-forgetfulness. We live in an ego-dominated world.
Whether it is what Manfred Kets de Vries calls the destructive egotism of narcissism characterized by ‘self-centredness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitation, exaggerated self-love, and failure to acknowledge boundaries.’ (The Leader On The Couch, p. 25)
Or whether it is the ego-driven quest of the empty consumer self, seeking to fill its emptiness with ever more possessions that are completely unnecessary, and serve only to feed the ego.
About seven years ago when I was stressed and anxious a little book called ‘The Jesus Prayer’ by Simon Barrington Ward lept off the shelf at me. The Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner helps us learn to sustain and switch our capacity for attention, as well as become aware of the presence of God.
At the same time as practicing this prayer I was doing some counselling and psychotherapy training at Roehampton and came across mindfulness within psychology. I felt these two different strands were related.
I then started researching one of the pioneers of the Jesus Prayer, a 5th century Bishop Diadochus of Photike – and came across an idea of his about ‘mindfulness of God.’ That phrase range me like a bell and I have been fascinated with researching it ever since.
The Greek phrase Diadochus uses which was translated mindfulness of God was mneme theou, literally the memory of God, or the remembrance of God – a living memory. This of course is the antidote to the ego as concretisation of God-forgetfulness, other-forgetfulness and creation-forgetfulness.
The practice of the memory of God helps us to remember God, remember others, remember creation, and remember our true self – made in the image and likeness of God. It releases us from the prison of the ego into a new freedom.