“Mindfulness” is a quality psychologists define as the ability to be (1) present in the moment and (2) consciously able to choose the best response out of a number of emotional possibilities. Mindfulness is the opposite of being reactive. For instance, if my kid was getting on my nerves and I was being reactive, I would feel angry and yell at him But if my kid was getting on my nerves and I was being mindful, I would feel angry, be aware of that anger, and be able to decide whether this was a time that was better served by yelling (there are times…) or by doing something else (e.g., redirecting, gently correcting, etc.) Where reactivity is emotion that is automatically and necessarily translated into action, mindfulness is awareness of my emotions that leads to awareness of possible responses and conscious action.
Mindfulness has been associated with better emotional, relational, and spiritual health and an important source of a healthy self-image (because it facilitates self-control and peacefulness).
Some Catholics who are aware of mindfulness have concerns about it because most psychological writing on mindfulness comes out of a Buddhist tradition. Buddhism is attractive to psychologists because it is an a-theistic religion (i.e., the belief in God is optional for Buddhists, who are chiefly concerned with personal enlightenment). Be that as it may, Catholics have been practicing their own form of mindfulness for 2000 years only we call it, “active contemplation.”
Contemplation is a kind of Christian prayer that helps us achieve greater intimacy with God, greater awarness of what God is saying to us, and greater clarity of how God wants us to respond. “Active contemplation” is the ability to use the mundane tasks of everyday life to this end. To be actively contemplative allows me to see the guy cutting me off in traffic as a metaphor for God’s patience with me when I cross him and a call to greater develop greater patience with others in return. To be actively contemplative allows me to hear God giving me advice about a situation I’ve been praying about–through the mouth of my 7 year old who is talking about some completely unrelated thing. to be actively contemplative means having the self-possession to feel one way, but be able to choose the better way despite those feelings. To be actively contemplative means to be able to feel depressed, or anxious, or angry and see that acting on those feelings is not in my best interest and be able to choose to do something else.
Cultivating mindfulness is, for the Catholic, an important skill for spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being.
Question: When are you most able to be mindful and what makes it possible? What do you see as the biggest challenge to your attempts to practice mindful, active contemplation?