Sep 18

I’ve recently started a short course on the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is interesting because it is about training our minds to be alert to what is present and real.

There is a story that comes from India that speaks about how easy it is to trap a monkey. All that is needed is to put a banana inside a coconut with a hole big enough for the monkey to put its hand in. The monkey reaches inside the coconut for the banana, but cannot pull the banana out once it has grabbed it. Most monkeys, it seems, are so reluctant to let go of the banana that they are captured instead.

The human mind is like this, despite all of our intelligence. We try to hold onto things that are pleasant, and deny things that are not so agreeable.  What mindfulness teaches is to be present to all things – good, bad and things in between. Our increased awareness of what is real means that we are more capable of enjoying the moments that are truly pleasant, and more able to cope with things that are difficult.

Therapeutically, mindfulness has found application amongst people who suffer from depression, with startling results for preventing relapses. It is also very significant for those who suffer chronic pain, allowing these people to cope with situations that were previously untenable.While the course I’m doing is religiously neutral, I believe it has implications for our own ‘Spiritual mindfulness’. Last week the lectionary readings included the story of Moses being called (God speaks from the burning bush) to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel to the promised land. The gospel reading had Jesus explain to the disciples that he would die and be raised again, with Peter denying this could ever happen, and getting in Jesus’ way. I think both these stories teach us about ‘Spiritual mindfulness’, and how we can be more fully present to the realities of God’s call on our lives and the reality of God’s presence.The reason I’ve made the connection between the practice of mindfulness and our own Spiritual practices is that mindfulness recognizes that the mind is often distracted. We are taught not to berate ourselves for this, but to simply recognize that it has happened, that this is part of the reality, and to gently resume our state of mindfulness. The stories of Peter and Moses have at their heart Spiritual distractions. In one moment (see Matthew 16:13-28) Peter is rewarded by Jesus for his Spiritual awareness. In the next moment Peter is likened to Satan and called a stumbling block for his lack of Spiritual awareness. This is very similar to the distracted nature of the mind that mindfulness seeks to address.The Moses story is quite similar. Moses has grown up in the court of Pharaoh as part of God’s plan for the liberation of Israel. But Moses gets distracted and impatient and tries to take God’s plan into his own hands. In a moment of anger and frustration he kills an Egyptian guard and has to flee Egypt for his life. When God calls out to him to resume his Spiritual plan, Moses is in exile beyond the wilderness.Mindfulness seeks to help us be fully present to what is real. The call of God from the burning bush to Moses is one to realign himself with God’s purposes. In a Spiritual sense, this call is for Moses to be fully present to what the reality of God’s purposes. For Peter, the time of learning seems to be extended. After his dramatic slip from being ‘Spiritually mindful’ to being a ‘Spiritual stumbling block’, the gospel records the story of Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James and John. In what is another moment of Spiritual enlightenment, Jesus is transfigured and Moses and Elijah are there talking with him.All Peter can do at this point is be transfixed by the glory of the moment and seek to stay on the mountain-top forever. He wants to build dwellings so that they can all stay there. The problem is, Peter’s ‘Spiritual call’ is to minister to the rest of the world who are absent from this particular moment.Mindfulness asks us to deal with the reality of things present, not to try and hold onto what seems good like this transfiguration moment. It also demands of us that we deal with the reality of negative things, rather than deny our part in them.For Peter this means not holding onto the glory of the transfiguration, and also facing up to what it meant to be a stumbling block to Jesus, likened to Satan!If Spiritual mindfulness has parallels to the practice of mindfulness, then it makes sense that as human beings we are easily distracted from the way of God. We can see this in Moses and in Peter quite clearly. As we continue to follow the story of Peter, we can see it happening again in Jesus’ most trying hour, when Peter denies ever knowing his master.But Peter still finds his way back to being mindful of the things of God. As a church we celebrate all that Peter has done in ministry post Jesus’ resurrection. The Roman Catholic Church believes there is a direct line of succession from Peter in Rome to the current pope, such is Peter’s significance.The lesson we can learn from mindfulness and apply to things of the Spirit, is that distraction is part of the human condition, but that the most effective way to remain focused on the call of God is to be aware of when we stray, and to gently resume again the things of God.I find prayerful reflection on the day that has passed, or prayer about particular moments that have been delightful or troubling are a good starting point to journey with God. Blessings,                                                                                                                  Rev. Arnie

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