Monthly Archives: April 2015

Mindfulness: More Than Fringe Benefits

“I love your new haircut, by the way, Mum.”

”Oh really? I wasn’t too sure about the fringe.”

No, I think the fringe really suits you.”

The brief exchange between mother and daughter caught my nosy ear as I passed them by on the railway bridge the other day. On reflection, it was the genuine love, kindness, fondness, closeness between the two ladies (who were strangers to me) that ignited the eyes of my heart.

When we’re being mindful, absorbing the sights and sounds around us, and when we’re attuned to the people we meet (or pass by on railway bridges), listening attentively and empathically to their inner thoughts and emotions, we become aware of God in this world.

You might not call it God or see it as God. Maybe, though, you too perceive the love and beauty and dignity of people’s souls and their relationships / connections with others, even amidst the brokenness and destructiveness of their / our own lives and social environment.

In the same spirit of mindful optimism, Louis Armstrong, after describing the “ordinary” things around him, like friends shaking hands, concludes: “What a wonderful world!”

I wonder what you call this? Humanity? The Universe? Or just instinctive, biological, neurological impulses?

Me, I see reflections and expressions of God in the people around me. Where there is love, there is God.

After the progress of Jewish theology about the nature of God through the course of the Old Testament, Jesus arrives and shows us exactly what God is like, through his life, death and resurrection. So much so, that in one of the very last books of the New Testament, Jesus’ closest friend John boldly settles the issue once and for all with 3 magic words: “God is love”!

In fact, right from the start, God’s unveiling of himself is building up to this final word.

At the beginning of the second book of the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus), God discloses his ‘name’ to Moses: YHWH or Yahweh, often translated as I Am.

Whenever I think about that, I’m completely blown away. By revealing himself as I Am, God is unfolding his true nature as self-existent, without beginning or end, and the source of all life, of all things. That he is unchanging, transcendent, mysterious, beyond human labels, denominations and religions. I sometimes think that Christians miss the enormity of this name, the implications of such a thunderous whisper to his people through the prophet Moses. Perhaps the Jews understood – maybe that’s why they were so loath to speak the name YHWH, and instead used names like ‘The Lord’ or substituted his name for the word ‘heaven’.

I believe that Yahweh, I Am, is everywhere. He is love and the source of all love. The Universe, all its electrons and quarks, I believe, are held together by him, by Love.

So it’s not surprising that if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will find God shining through the cracks of a sometimes dark world – in both surprising and unsurprising places (as I described previously in The Source). Surprised?

Mindfulness, for some, is developing that awareness of the extraordinariness of God in the ordinariness of life – part of the longing expressed by Van Morrison in a song that many of us can relate to: “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God?”

[Here’s one of my favourite great kids’ worship songs, that’s about living in God….

…and contains the line “Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look I see your face”…..]

But if we walk and live mindfully, doesn’t that mean that as well as being more observant of beauty and love, we’ll also become more aware of all the anguish, animosity and ugliness around us?

I don’t think so, because we’re already so conditioned to find fault. It’s second nature to notice negativity. I gave an interview recently to a broadcast media student. After I’d spoken for ages about my life story, from homeless traveller to nurse co-ordinating a homeless service, the student quizzed me about any more traumatic experiences I might have had before my life turned around. She wanted to highlight these because “people relate to misery”, as she put it. The news media understand this, bombarding us as they do with bad news 24/7 from around the globe.

And don’t get me started on the rather British penchant for moaning.….

We readily pick up on the negative stuff of our world, without any practice or effort.

But when we stop or slow down enough to observe the things we don’t otherwise perceive through the everyday lenses of busyness, it’s the positive things that catch our eyes, ears and hearts – and which inspire us towards hope and faith in the midst of obvious suffering, whether our own or of others.

No wonder, then, that mindfulness is at least as effective as medication for depression, according to one recent study reported in The Guardian.

Good news in a world where the over-prescribing of, and over-reliance on, anti-depressants is often criticised and their efficacy questioned.

Slowing down to take stock not only of our own thoughts and emotions, but also of the everyday silent wonders that surround us, will inevitably make us happier people.

Perhaps, just as Moses experienced when he was minding his own business on the mountain, a mindful approach might even start to reveal transcendence and love – even through simple conversations about such mundane things as haircuts.

Now that, to me, sounds like a whole lot more than just fringe benefits.


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