In a series of emails with a Catholic graduate student who is studying mindfulness, an interesting question immerged. The question became how explicit does prayer have to be integrated into mindfulness? Many of the elements of mindfulness do not seem to be directly connected with the Christian idea of a personal relationship with God, and at best it seems as though mindfulness has natural benefits akin to other wellness areas such as exercise or diet. By the way, the natural benefits have been well documented.
The problem with such an approach is that it seems to oversimplify prayer. In its most basic sense, prayer is an objective reality that is established before our explicit awareness of that reality. Our relationship with God extends beyond our psychology penetrating to the core of who and what we are. Through the faith offered in the sacraments, we are inserted into the on-going and eternal exchange of the Most Holy Trinity. By being in a state of grace, all of our activities and works are participating in the Body of Christ which is nothing short of our participation in God’s divine life.
In the first age of our spiritual development, the distance between set periods of prayer and our daily lives appears dramatic. It is important to note that this is only appearance. Our set periods of prayer draw their vitality from the Eucharistic celebration, and in time both our private prayer and our participation in the Mass attune our hearts to the Divine indwelling. This awareness is not an act of the will, but rather is a gift of grace that arises as the emotions are cooled and the heart learns to rest.
In the second age, there is a greater interpenetration of this divine presence with all our activities. The believer begins to sense the Divine presence, but this new intuition seems foreign and obscure. For this reason, St. John of the Cross calls it a kind of dark knowledge because the believer cannot adequately express in words the new insights that they are learning about themselves and God.
In the third age, this presence becomes habitual. The believer turns to God out of a kind of spiritual instinct. The believer now becomes aware that God’s presence fills all times and places, and yet the believer is also deeply aware that God is beyond all times and places. The Divine presence becomes a kind of reference point. From this vantage point, everything else draws its meanings and is understood relative to this primary experience. It is primary because the believer now realizes that it has always been there, gently guiding.
Along these lines, mindfulness may seem rather distinct from prayer at first. However, with time the two will become interconnected as everything gets drawn up into the transfiguring light of Jesus Christ. It can also be a helpful aid to cultivating the stillness needed for prayer. By opening our hearts to our experiences, we soon develop the sensitivity needed to explore the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Note: For the sake of this article, I was not able to define or explain what mindfulness is or my other thoughts on Christian mindfulness. In terms of the former, a brief google search will bring many good results. In terms of my thoughts, please see my article “Christian Mindfulness” (http://www.contemplatio.us/the-practice-of-christian-mindfulness-2/)