I’ve struggled for years to maintain a consistent contemplative prayer practice. Oh, I’m great at starting one. It’s sustaining it that I find difficult. I last a few days, maybe a week, and then stop.
Recently, I’ve been trying something else – mindfulness. While meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, it’s not the only one. In the approach I’ve been trying, anything can be an opportunity for mindfulness, which, at its core, is paying attention, on purpose, in the moment.
So, when I practice, I become very aware of what I’m doing. If I’m washing dishes I feel the temperature of the water, smell the lemony scent of the dish soap, see the food residue disappear as I scrub, and hear the clink of plates being stacked after I dry them. Eating can be mindful. So can taking a walk.
The point is to bring awareness to the present moment using my senses. Grounded like that, I find I’m less likely to be hijacked by spinning thoughts or whirling emotions. Being present is something I’m working on right now, and I find I make better, more thoughtful decisions from a centered place. I can assess situations for what they are. It’s also a place where I feel most connected to the Divine.
I once attended a weekend workshop given by the theologian John Haught. His talks were based on a couple of recent books he’d written on atheism. He talked about there being a third way between the kind of atheism that insists science proves belief in the Divine is mistaken, and some branches of Christianity that entirely reject science. Haught argued that both a belief in the Divine and science can co-exist. They are not polar opposites and, in fact, exist in thoughtful relationship. A third way encompasses both and grounds them. It was a mindful approach that really resonated with me.
Our world is in desperate need of a mindful third way of its own. It’s clear many decisions, large and small, are being made based on emotions, insecurities or other fleeting, self-centered impulses and in a way that is not at all grounded in what is. And responses to those decisions are often also not terribly mindful or centered. (Social media outrage, anyone?)
Lost in all of this is, well, reality. The reality that we live in a world increasingly experiencing the effects of climate change, which are only going to get worse. Or, the reality that there are marginalized groups in our society who have traditionally experienced exclusion, at best, and outright violence, at worst. And there’s the reality that, as a whole, we do a terrible job of prioritizing the poor and vulnerable. In fact, many political decisions make things far worse for children, the elderly, the disabled and others who should be the focus of policymaking and not collateral damage.
Even when people think they are helping, they might not be. How many changes in government do we have to go through that simply undo – often maliciously – the work of the previous party in power? Often this is done without regard for the actual good some policies and laws were doing. No, in the game of mindless, winner-take-all politics – and that’s how it seems many in power approach it, as a game – scorched earth is the way to prove you’ve succeeded. It’s unfortunate, and very damaging.
My prayer, lately, has been that those in power embrace a mindful third way that’s truly rooted in, well, reality. Scoring points, demonizing anyone who disagrees with you and policymaking-as-revenge are not mindful, they’re the polar opposite.
I don’t know what the answer is, aside from encouraging and supporting leaders who can take a holistic approach. We need decisions to be made from a much more grounded place than whatever is driving most leadership at the moment.
So, I will pray for that, and continue to practice mindfulness and endeavor to embrace a third way. My hope is others will do the same and we’ll see the shift that’s so desperately needed.
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a Victoria-based writer, poet and communications professional. He holds an M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He blogs at www.dearpopefrancis.ca.
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