When you get stressed out does the particular situation completely take over and consume your day?
Did you know you can reduce that stress, improve your mood, and become more attentive just by focusing on the present moment?
It’s true, but so often we let the present moment pass us by.
Just like I almost did the other day…
The snow-capped mountains lay against a shockingly clear blue sky overlooking the high desert valley. Aspens quivered in the gentle breeze carrying smells of fragrant sage, broom and rabbit brush. It was a gorgeous and breath-taking scene.
But I nearly missed all of this.
Don’t be blind to the glory around you
I was so worried about several looming deadlines that I hadn’t looked up from my computer and out the window. When I caught sight of the stunning morning, I wondered how often I failed to see the beauty of God’s creation or hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit simply because I was so busy fretting about the future or agonizing over the past?
It’s still summer! God is good! How we miss out when we blind ourselves to the glory of the present moment!
In fact, scientific research now shows that we can reduce stress, improve our mood, and become more attentive when we learn to attend to the present moment.
A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that a certain form of mindfulness meditation can improve attention and decrease anxiety, fatigue, anger, and depression.
Eastern style meditation often requires focusing on breathing, a single image or a word. The researchers in this particular study used a Chinese method of mindfulness training that enabled the participant to remain focused totally on the present moment.
It is interesting that we reduce stress, improve our mood, and become more attentive when we focus on the present moment.
But it’s true.
Just this morning when I was feeling stressed about the future deadlines, I failed to appreciate the present moment—a moment in which God’s presence was revealed.
Worrying about the future (or ruminating over an incident from the past) creates tension, anxiety, and even a sort of blindness to what is around us.
Jesus knows how we are prone to anxiety and stress and so he tells us,
“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matthew 6:34).
Not only did meditation help combat depression (brooding over negative thoughts only increases feelings of sadness), it also helps prevent overeating.
Even more fascinating is the research from Virginia Tech’s marriage and family therapy program with high conflict couples. When these couples meditated (whether together or separately) for just 10 minutes at a time, they began arguing less. Being present to your loved one (rather than harboring past resentments or wishing he or she were somebody else) increases your empathy and love.
Live the presence of God
Brother Lawrence had been plagued by negative thoughts and severe melancholy and for many years was convinced that he would suffer final damnation.
But he suddenly realized that, whether he were ultimately saved or damned, he could do his best to love God right now.
His depression lifted and he never again suffered from scruples or negativity. Brother Lawrence called this the practice of the presence of God.
Brother Lawrence suggests that you:
“Take delight in and become accustomed to his [God’s] divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment.”
Dwelling in the presence of God is central to Christian prayer.
Christian prayer vs. Eastern meditation
Unlike Eastern forms of meditation, Christian prayer is not an effort of concentration on breathing or focusing on a word or image, or emptying of the mind.
Prayer (whether vocal, meditative or contemplative) is communicating with Someone. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, seeking to know and love Him. But it should even go further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, to be in union with him (CCC, 2708).
Christian prayer is more than reciting rote prayers; it is a quest, a sharing between friends, an attitude of the heart that seeks the beloved:
“I sought him whom my soul loves; sought him, but found him not; I will rise now and go about the city, I will seek him whom my soul loves” (Song of Songs 3:1-3).
And it is a gift. The Eastern method of meditation, beneficial as it is, is something different.Prayer that seeks union with God is a gift; it is not something we can achieve through our own effort alone.Click To Tweet
Are you missing the blessings right in front of you?
“We live as we pray” the Catechism tells us. If we do not pray, then perhaps we do not truly live. Just as I nearly missed the glory of the sun rising over the mountains, so too, one who doesn’t pray may miss the glory of God’s presence in the present moment.
Though the effects are surely greater attention and an improvement in mood (as Brother Lawrence found) Christian prayer can also be a battle.
The image of Jacob wrestling all night with the angelic visitor to attain a blessing (Genesis 32:24) reminds us of our need to persevere on our faith journey.
We fight against our temptations, distractions, discouragement, and even sometimes our own lack of faith. Sometimes there is nothing but the Spirit who groans within us.
But, Saint Paul tells us to pray constantly.
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:17)
Notice the connection between praying, being thankful, and joy!
Not only is prayer the life of our soul, but also it makes our daily lives rich and vibrant with God’s love and peace and joy in the present moment.