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Prayer & Spirituality

Mindfulness is an incredibly useful tool for almost any situation life throws our way. I first learned about it while doing centering prayer and found it helpful even when I wasn’t engaged in this spiritual practice. Now, after years of trying to be mindful, I feel as if the time in my life before I learned about this was my spiritual infancy even though I considered myself a prayerful, reverent person  back then.

The point of mindfulness is for us to engage all our five senses — or at least as many as possible — in order to keep us focused on the present moment. The other point is to focus on the present in a non-judgmental way. Although the idea seems redundant, it is deceptive; we might think we have presence simply because we are physically present. I know that’s what I thought, but after experiencing a true mindful presence, it became clear to me that I was absent from so much of my life. I began to notice how many of us are not really present either.

There seems to be an underlying distraction that prevents us from really engaging in daily life in a meaningful way. We also spend an awful lot of time assigning judgment to our experiences, even as they are happening. This judgment is the biggest barrier to mindful presence.

Once I saw how mindfulness works, I started understanding the tremendous benefits: reduced stress, more peace of mind and a much greater capacity for joy in the mundane events. Mindfulness can be practiced any time: while eating, praying, working, exercising and even dating. 

As far as prayer goes, I’d mentioned how centering prayer introduced me to the idea. I discovered that St. Ignatius practiced mindful prayer with his idea of praying along the rhythm of the breath. Both of these practices are ways in to a mindful way of life.

Mindful eating is another way in, and one that has been getting a lot of press lately. Too often, we eat mindlessly without even realizing it. Couples and families spend meal times in the midst of conversation. Singles, too, often eat mindlessly — in front of the TV, for instance, or with a radio on, or while talking on the phone. Here in New York City, mindless eating is everywhere: people eat while walking, on the subway or hunched over their desks. It is so pervasive that it’s invisible, at least until mindful awareness steps in.

The more I understood mindful presence as a daily practice, I began thinking more about what this means for singles who are seeking partners. Lack of presence in our interpersonal relations can often lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and alienation.

I wondered what this lack of presence looks like, and it occurred to me that I already named it: the Relationship X-Ray Machine. Those distracting, nagging thoughts that plague us on dates distract us from the present moment.  It makes sense, of course: If  you are trying to carry on a conversation with someone new, all the while questioning every gesture, every word and every glance, you can hardy be fully present in the moment.

But is it possible to engage in mindful dating? Given the pitfalls of Internet dating, is it even a wise idea? 

I recognize, of course, how awkward first dates can be. It would be even weirder to stop talking and fully take in a total stranger on a sensory level, but mindful presence goes beyond the strictest sense of mindfulness.

I had a date recently that exemplified a mindful experience. We went to an art exhibit and, in between lively conversation, had moments of silent contemplation, completely absorbed in the paintings. After we left the gallery, it was a nonstop chat-fest, but there was no evidence of the RXM, and both of us were fully present. 

So how can we turn off the Relationship X-Ray Machine long enough to become fully present on a date?

The first way to turn off the machine is to be open. Practice this before a date while with a friend. Take a moment to silently receive as much sensory details as you can. Don’t judge any information as good, bad, repellant or attractive. Just by close listening and watching, without worry, we can get a lot more information about our date. Try suspending judgment and the experience might be downright pleasurable! It is very difficult, of course, but the rewards might just be worth it. It’s a liberating feeling, one that for me is worth repeating!

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8 Comments

  1. Stephen-725391 June 26, 2012

    Catherine, This is fascinating and ever trying to become a better person thus a better match, I have read the blogs here to find those things I have overlook or didn’t know existed. This is one such blog and I would very much like to begin. There is very little practical direction, instruction, or even citations pointing one in the direction of finding the elements and more on implementing ‘mindful presence’. I’m an engineer and lawyer with a fair amount of analytical experience and this blog shows the potential of this – where can this be found? HELP! Stephen

  2. Charles-211696 July 4, 2012

    Could you elaborate a little more on how you were first introduced to mindfulness?

    • Cate Perry
      Catherine Perry July 4, 2012

      Hi Charles,
      I first heard about mindfulness when I started going to weekly Centering Prayer gatherings – in the same church that Fr. Thomas Keating began Centering Prayer, actually! The guide book we used was “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” by Cynthia Bourgeault.

      • Charles-211696 July 5, 2012

        That’s interesting, because I first heard about “mindfulness” when reading about Thich Nhat Hanh.

        • Cate Perry
          Catherine Perry July 10, 2012

          Mindfulness as a practice is not exclusive to Christianity. I haven’t read the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, and the only time I did read about mindfulness is from Christian authors.

  3. Carlos-876737 July 21, 2012

    Thanks for the article Catherine. Which books on mindfulness by Christian authors have you read? I would like to start practising that. It would help my life greatly. Again thanks for your vry insightful article. :0)

  4. Theresa-635422 July 16, 2014

    Dear Catherine,
    Thank you for your article. It reminded me what I needed and want to work on spiritually. I learned about the St. Ig. Spiritual Exercises at St. Peter Chanel, with Father Ed Broom. It is in english or in spanish. So, good I want to finish it as I got only up to the week 6 of 10 for the Pre Lenten season. I think its online, too. Your sister in Christ, Theresa.

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