In his book ‘The Mindful Workplace’ Michael Chaskalson describes Tibetan Buddhist monks as ‘Olympic-level athletes of meditation.’ These Olympic level athletes of the mind were being brain-scanned by Western scientists who were staggered by the results they found.
The idea of Olympic-level athletes of the mind leapt out at me as I’ve been so impressed with the spirit in motion of the Paralympic athletes, their beauty, grace and disciplines of training.
This idea of Olympic-level athletes of the mind is a challenge to Christians who are to have ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). As Christians we are supposed to be able to have our minds ”filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:19).We are to be in ‘strict training’ (1 Corinthians (:25).
And yet I don’t read of Christians being called Olympic athletes of the mind. Even though we believe in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and God’s grace. We need to rediscover the contemplative practices of our past, the ancient paths, and walk in them again.
The media and coffee shop conversation is all about how the crowds at the Olympic venues have lifted the athletes to new heights of glory. A case perhaps of the crowds becoming more than a crowd, actually becoming community. Many of the athletes have also talked about their inner mental battle to believe they could win their particular discipline. In the crisis moments the hugely positive encouragement of the crowds have helped them believe.
In their book ‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, which is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman talk about one of the insights of MBCT and other therapies: the reality that we attack ourselves with self-critical thoughts and that our minds are a rumour mill, constantly making often false interpretations of the world around us.
If I had listened to my self-critical thoughts my own book ‘A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness’ might never have come about. What brought about a change in my thinking was the encouragement of others as well as becoming aware that I was bigger than my self-critical thoughts, and my thoughts were not a direct readout of reality.
The encouragement of others in my community to write the book was hugely important. Simon Walker, an Anglican Vicar and author of ‘The Undefended Leader’ Trilogy acted a bit like a coach in pushing me to believe in myself, and gave me a lot of practical help. Another friend who was a professional editor did a lot of work on the book, followed by another friend who is a professional copy-editor who worked very hard on the original manuscript.
Yet other friends suggested possible publishers before a member of my congregation put me in touch with Instant Apostle the eventual publishers of ‘A Book of Sparks.’
When I was growing up in Kenya we didn’t have television and my mum taught me to read at the age of three. She was followed by a succession of English teachers who really motivated me to write. But why should we write? Simon Barnes who writes on sport for The Times wrote recently that Federer played not for fame or victory, but for playing’s sake, that he played with soul. We need to write not for fame or glory but just for writing’s sake – for the sheer joy of seeing words on a page. We need to write even if only one person reads what has been written.
Do you have a dream that you are not following because of self-critical thoughts? Is there someone in your life that you need to encourage to step out and dream? Helen Glover the British Olympic rowing gold medalist apparently only took up the sport four years ago. Her mother saw an advert in a newspaper calling for tall people to take up rowing.
If secretly you believe you have a book in you…start writing. Let’ s stop pulling people down and start building them up.