We concluded on Monday that if we are to ENJOY the season of life we’re in—to know Paul’s secret to being joyful and content in all circumstances—we must learn to live in the present, not worrying about tomorrow. And we must live each day expressing thanks to God for each and every good gift and surrendering every bit of our will and desires and plans to him—for that day, and for all others— in the process.
It sounds easy.
Until you try it, that is.
Living in the present requires a skill that has recently come back into vogue: mindfulness. If we are to live in the NOW, we must be attuned to the now. We must be paying attention. Our thoughts must be centered. Our focus must be right in front of us.
But it is not easy to live this way in our present age of distraction and escapism. We want to be anywhere but right here, right now. We reminisce about a better past. We fret over the uncertainty of our future. We stew over wounds, both past and predicted. We entertain fantasies of wealth, power, favor—anything that is what we don’t have but think we need in order to be happy. And we miss what is going on around us.
Sometimes, on purpose.
The antidote is learning and practicing mindfulness. Now, before anyone gets their panties in a wad, let’s talk about what meditation is, and what it isn’t. Susan Smalley and Diana Winston, in their book Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, define for us what it is: “Mindfulness may be thought of as a state of consciousness, one characterized by attention to present experience with a stance of open curiosity. It is a quality of attention that can be brought to any experience.”
I would define mindfulness as a tether or anchor that keeps our attention and energy bound to the present moment, despite the wind or the current surrounding us that attempt to carry our thoughts and focus elsewhere. I believe, for Christians, it is a practice both empowered by the Holy Spirit and imbued with the Holy Spirit—to be aware of ALL that is going on in the present moment, physically and spiritually, alike.
What mindfulness is not is a purely secular notion or endeavor, rooted solely in Buddhism and New Age philosophies. We see evidences of this practice being used by Christians as far back as the Christian Desert Fathers and as recent as the 20th century author Thomas Merton. We even see glimpses of it in Christ’s teachings:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34, emphasis mine.)
These last two sentences, in particular, imply to me a practice of mindfulness: a focus on the present, wherein the presence of the Lord dwells. When our focus is here—on seeking the Lord in our right now—“all things shall be added unto us” and our thoughts no longer blow from one breeze of worry to another, but float gently right above our heads, rooted in both the present and the presence.
If we are to ENJOY the season we currently find ourselves in—or to have peace and joy in any season—we must learn to meet the Lord right here and right now, even if that means in the midst of diapers or illness or chaos or even death. We must learn to be present to those around us—both divine and human—and attentive to both our experience of and interactions with them.
We can no longer live life floating feely in space and time, dragged here and there by the winds of worry and the currents of our culture. We must be anchored. Tethered to that which is secure.
We must be mindful.
Of the present.
Of HIS PRESENCE.
And of the divine, mysterious place where the two intersect.