It is really simple: Pay attention to your body.
Some people might think this is too simple, but I stand by my position. The big thing that us Catholics can take from mindfulness is the need to “see” and “experience” our bodies, our emotions, and their connection with our interior life without trying to force them away or get entangled in all manner of negative thinking.
Cultivating this kind of attention to our bodies is a great help in dealing with stress and the deep disorders of the heart.
So the natural question becomes, did Catholics not pay attention to the their bodies before?
I am not sure if we can make a definitive statement one way or another about that particular point, but in looking back over the sources I love from within the Western Christian Tradition (i.e. Catholics such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, etc.), I find little discussion about the role of the body in the spiritual life or any particular maxims given which express what that role should be.
If someone finds quotes…. send them my way.
As has been noted by many spiritual writers, the Western approach has tended to be more intellectual in its approach.
That does not mean that considerations for the body are completely absent from the Christian tradition. In fact, there are many such discussions within Eastern Rite Catholicism or Orthodox spiritual writers. Their discussion is often very rich and offers a lot for us to reflect upon.
So why do we now need to consider the body in our current situation?
The answer is one word: stress.
Modern living is becoming more stressful and sedentary, and I believe that a better understanding of the care and guidance of the body is essential to addressing the needs of modern Americans.
On an intellectual level, the role of the body is not completely ignored in the Western tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas gives a beautiful account of the “passions” which shows how our emotional life is a bridge between our sense perception and our soul. However, there are no specific suggestions as to how the passions can be educated and guided towards harmony with Jesus Christ. Most discussions on this topic consist of broad generalizations that do little to illuminate concretely how such integration can take place.
That is why we need mindfulness, it gives us some tools to help understand how to discern the work of the Holy Spirit and how to educate the passions.
So, remember the basic idea:
Connect with your body and your experience with non-judgmental awareness so to be better able to connect with Jesus and your neighbor.
Does that make sense? Do you agree or disagree? We would love to hear from you.