Saturday, July 14, 2012


"For those who LIVE according to the FLESH set their minds of the things of the flesh, but those who LIVE according to the SPIRIT set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the FLESH IS DEATH, BUT to set the mind on the SPIRIT IS LIFE and Peace." (Romans 8:5-6)

"Pray without ceasing."
1 Thessalonians 5:17

"Mindfulness" is the Buddhist term for one of seven factors of their enlightenment. It is inherently offensive to ask a Christian to try and achieve it. It's the same thing as asking a Muslim individual to contemplate his baptism into Christ. I ask everyone to please be mindful of that.

And so, when such a concept is presented within a secular program or activity, we can either respectfully abstain from it altogether, or we can break it down to its most simplistic form and apply a Christian world view. I chose to do the latter, and here's what I found. (My sincere apologies to anyone who will find my oversimplification of this Buddhist ideal offensive. I mean no disrespect).

Very simply put, mindfulness is a spiritual and psychological awareness that enables one to be totally present in the moment. "It is not to let what one knows slip away from one's mind," to not be distracted from the moment (Geunther, Mind in Buddhist Psychology). The most easily understood definition I came across is from a Zen master named Muho Neolke in "Antaiji: Adult Practice":
If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I – am – mindful – of - ..."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk. Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let the sleep sleep (Part 18).
Let the spasms spasm? Let the cramps cramp? No, that can't be right. Moments for me are fairly painful, so I spend most of my time trying to escape them, trying NOT to be in them. The pain steals the moments from me, it sets my mind on the flesh, and so I think -- and correct me if I'm mistaken -- the idea is to be mindful despite the pain, not to be mindful of the pain. (We can discuss the merits of being mindful of unpleasant things some other time).

That's how we're supposed to treat all our chronic stressors. Financial trouble generally isn't resolved as soon as we put away our checkbooks, but the key is to only think about the finances while the checkbook is out. It's the same with learning to live with the death of a loved one. The fact that our loved one is gone is always present, just like our chronic pain, but we can't dwell on it 24/7 without going mad.

If the present reality, the present moment, is awful―and we all know it can be―then what moment are we supposed to be present in? What are we supposed to be mindful of, exactly? The clock ticking? The birds chirping? The feel of the grass under my feet? Yeah, that's not really doing it for me. I don't pretend to understand that part of the Buddhist way, but thankfully St. Paul has his own answer to that question.

Years ago, a beloved speech professor of mine (thank you, Charles) introduced me to a concept that's proved invaluable over these last few painful years: the distinction between the really real and the actual. The actual, being reality, is temporary and temporal. It exists only within a single moment of time. The really real, also being reality, transcends the temporal. The really real is where our loved ones who died before us live, it's also where the Crucifixion and Resurrection took place (as well as in the actual). The fact that Christ died and rose for our sins and we are redeemed is REALLY REAL; the fact that we are sick and hurting is ACTUAL.

So, the "mindfulness" St. Paul calls for is for us to live in the reality of our salvation while living with the actuality of our sinfulness. Sounds great. I want to be in that moment. I want to be mindful of the salvation Jesus won for me on the cross despite all the things that try to imprison my mind in the actual. I want to be aware of the really real to the point that I forget everything else: the ultimate enlightenment.

Well, I'm afraid that's not going to happen until everything else but the really real ceases to exist, so for now all I can do is try. Letting the walk walk―letting the salvation save?―is so hard to do when I am constantly in pain. That blasted thorn in my flesh constantly anchors me in the actual, in the temporal, in the temporary sinful imperfections of my body and my life. Cripes, even as I write this I'm interrupted every 5 minutes with the reality of my disease.

That's human. That's actual. And that's okay, because our salvation doesn't depend on what level of enlightenment we are able to attain for ourselves. The ultimate enlightenment isn't something that I can achieve for myself at all: it's something Jesus achieved for me, something that will be actualized on the Last Day.

Nevertheless, do not be dragged into the belief that the only peace Christians can hope for is in death. We can be mindful of the really real, of our salvation in Christ, despite our anchors. The really real IS HERE NOW. You can touch it in Word and Sacrament: in church, in prayer, in our baptism. Let the flesh go and strive to be mindful of your salvation in Christ every moment, and thank God that true “inner peace” has nothing to do with inner anything, but rather lies in an outer reality that is greater than whatever anchors us to the actual.

Here's an example of the music I use for meditation or relaxation or prayer. I translated it from Latin because we should always be aware of what we're listening to, as well as what we're meditating on. It's quite soothing if you enjoy medieval chanting (this song is well over 800 years old).

Suggest verse to repeat when in prayerful meditation is from Psalm 23:1a
PRC buddies, remember to breathe!
"The Lord is my shepherd, -------> 5 count inhale
I shall not want." -------> 5 count exhale

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