Pathways to Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.  It can be developed through the practice of meditation and other similar exercises.

Studies have shown that stress and worry contribute to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and that mindfulness-based practices are effective in the reduction of both stress and worry.

There are several meditation exercises designed to develop mindfulness. One method is to sit on a straight-backed chair or sit cross-legged on the floor or a cushion, close your eyes and use the rhythm of breathing to promote mindfulness, by bringing attention to either the sensations of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, or to the movement of the abdomen when breathing in and out.  In this meditation practice, do not try to control your breathing, but try to simply be aware of the natural breathing process/rhythm.  When engaged in this practice, the mind will often run off to other thoughts and associations, and if this happens, simply notice that the mind has wandered, and in an accepting, non-judgmental way, return to focusing on the breath.

Other meditation exercises to develop mindfulness include body-scan meditation where attention is directed at various areas of the body, noting body sensations that happen in the present moment.  Engaging in yoga practices, while attending to movements and body sensations, as well as walking meditation are other methods of developing mindfulness.  You can also focus on sounds, sensations, thoughts, feelings and actions that happen in the present.

Meditators are recommended to start with short periods of 10 minutes or so of meditation practice per day.  Through regular practice it becomes easier to keep your attention focused on your breathing for longer periods.

As a starting point you might like to try the sample exercises available from the menu at right.

Awareness Examen

The Awareness Examen is a form of contemplative prayer.  It builds on the fact that at the end of each day we often find ourselves looking back over the events of the day and reflecting on how we have been impacted by those events.  In the Awareness Examen, we suspend the temptation of making our own analysis and judgments and invite God to bring to our awareness whatever in the day – an event, a person, a mood, an insight – is important for us to notice right now.

We may ask questions of ourselves like, For what during the day am I most grateful?  Or, What during the day did I find least pleasing?

In this reflective moment we wait – we do not control this time – but allow the experience of the day to flow back into our awareness.  We stay quiet and still, patiently letting our hearts be touched.  We listen for what God may be saying to us in this.  Later we spontaneously respond to what we have heard, maybe with gratitude, with sorrow or with a cry for help – whatever is real for us.

This process only takes 10-15 minutes.

A possible framework:

  1. Take the time to relax in mind, body and spirit becoming aware of being enfolded in God’s love.
  2. Ask the Spirit to bring to your awareness whatever from the day is important for you to notice.
  3. Gently allow the experiences of the day to flow back into your awareness lingering on the moments and events which catch your attention.  Let them touch you again as you re-live them.  You may be surprised by what you notice.  As you re-experience them, be open to what God is saying to you in this.
  4. Respond spontaneously and truthfully from your heart – with joy, gratitude, laughter, sadness, a prayer for deeper trust or surrender – whatever is authentic for you.
  5. Bring the meditation to a close with a prayer that gathers up your responses to the day.  Gently let the next day come to your awareness, commit its unfolding to God in deeper trust and a growing desire to be shaped by God’s spirit.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (literally the divine word) is a meditative practice that uses scripture (or any sacred writing) to help focus our reflection and attend to the promptings of God’s Spirit in our lives.  The process of Lectio Divina involves four progressive phases, flowing from reflection on the sacred word to spontaneous prayer and then to silent basking in the love of God.

The four movements are reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.

A possible framework:

  1. Prepare:  Take time to quiet yourself in mind, body and spirit.  You may choose to begin with a simple breathing exercise to still your mind and quiet your soul.
  2. Reading:  Choose a short reading or passage of text (say 5-10 verses).  It may be a text that you have heard recently, or one that has kept coming to mind, or one that you choose at random.  Slowly read it, listening to it with your heart.  Often a word or phrase will stand out.  Savour this as you listen more deeply to what God may be saying to you.
  3. Meditation:  Take a few moments to be open to the gentle promptings of the Spirit, being attentive to the thoughts and feelings that you sense as you wait in the silence.  Sometimes it can be helpful to repeat some significant word(s) from the reading (as a mantra), or to let your imagination flow (perhaps even drawing or writing in the process), or to listen to music as you reflect on the words you have read, or to sit in silence and wait patiently upon God’s Spirit.
  4. Prayer:  Whatever direction you are led at this time, find a way to respond to the insights and awarenesses that have come to your attention in whatever way is real for you.
  5. Contemplation:  The transition to contemplation happens as we open ourselves to the Spirit of God and our natural faculties of reason, imagination and affective feelings are progressively replaced by an ever-deepening awareness of and longing for the nearness and action of God’s Spirit within us.  This may be felt as an overwhelming experience of being loved absolutely.

Quiet Contemplation

Centring prayer seeks to create space for quiet contemplation as an means of evoking the ‘relaxation response’ instead of the ‘stress response’ that is so common in everyday life.  Centring prayer often focuses on our breath and/or our body sensations as a pathway to stillness. Practised regularly, contemplation can help cultivate a stillness and peace within us that enables us to deal more constructively with the pressures of everyday life, and promotes our general health and wellbeing.

A possible framework:

  1. Settle yourself in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.  Allow yourself to relax in body, mind and spirit to become open to God. Focus on the breath entering and leaving your body and imagine it flowing to the tips of your toes and right through your body bringing relaxation and peace.
  2. When ready, turn your attention to your soul and the spark of God’s Spirit planted deep within you. Is there one aspect of the nature of God that you wish to feel particularly at this time (love? grace? joy? etc.)? Dwell gently on that quality.
  3. Whenever you find your mind wandering or your awareness distracted or your quietness disturbed by over-thinking, gently refocus on your breath, recall your special thought, and return to your quiet contemplation.  Some days you will need to do this often, because there seems to be a lot of noise around or within you.  Other days it may not be an issue at all.  No matter. Simply keep returning to the stillness and the awareness of God’s nearness.
  4. At the end of the contemplation, return gently to the calls of the day.  It may be helpful to finish with a brief expression of gratitude for the opportunity that has been afforded you.