I’ve spoken before about how much my spiritual life changed when I learned about mindfulness. For those of you who have never heard of mindfulness before, it is a much-misunderstood idea and not all practices follow the truths of the Catholic faith. When I speak of mindfulness please know that I am not speaking of Buddhist practices or New Age techniques.
What immediately comes forth when I think about defining mindfulness are the words of St. John of the Cross: “Silence is God’s first language.” That’s about the most succinct way of looking at mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply a way for us to quiet ourselves, both internally and externally, and take the time to notice the small details. Mindfulness can be done anywhere, at any time, as long as we are able to quiet ourselves in the midst of our surroundings.
The easiest way for me to start is to engage my five senses completely, noticing the sites and sounds, the smells (hopefully, pleasant ones) and tactile information surrounding me. Try to stay as much “in the moment” as possible, without letting your thoughts wander off. Keep concentrating on the stimuli around you, and separate yourself from it, without getting lost in thought.
The way I try to practice mindfulness most often is in mindful eating. Before even beginning to eat, I engage my senses: seeing all of the colors and textures of the food, taking in all the smells and even the sounds, sometimes. It really enhances the experience of taste when the time comes.
Then, as part of the mindfulness practice, I go into all the sensory information I can get from myself: I check my posture, my distance from the table or the plate, my state of mind, and most importantly of all, my level of hunger.
As a final step in mindful eating, before the actual eating, that is, I say Grace. No meal seems valid until I recite the prayer.
One time on a date, early into our relationship, my boyfriend asked if we could say Grace. I was only too happy to do so. After saying Grace together a few times, we both noticed that our experience of eating changed completely. It was in reciting the prayer that we set our own stage for mindful eating. And because of this, our meals are so much more enjoyable, memorable and—filling!
Well, here was a perfect marriage of prayerfulness and mindfulness. We decided that if we can practice mindful eating, we could probably practice mindfulness at other times as well.
With practicing mindfulness, our relationship has deepened on a spiritual level in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It just added another layer to the ways in which we’ve bonded, and it has allowed for a deeper sense of familiarity between us. Catholics can also achieve the benefits for mind and body, and soul as well.
Women of Grace blog explains how to effectively practice mindfulness and live in the present moment. Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the book, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, talks about the “realization that every event in our lives, from the most ordinary to the most spectacular, are all manifestations of God’s will for us. It teaches us to experience every moment—such as this very moment as you read these words—as a holy sacrament because God is at work in it. As we acquire this holy practice, God becomes much more real to us, much more a part of our lives, and a true Companion on our journey.”
The difference is immense, as are the benefits. I suggest this to couples who are beyond the initial stages in their relationship. And for singles, I go by what my spiritual director advised: if you can eat mindfully for one meal, one minute, or one spoonful, it’s better than not doing it at all. It is the one spoonful that can lead to two, to four, to an entire meal. I have learned to live mindfully, more and more each day. It is a practice that leads to a more prayerful life. That is the goal. And it is well worth it.