Category Archives: Mindfulness

Ohio congressman on a mission to bring meditation to the masses

Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) is on a mission to bring mindfulness to the masses. RNS photo courtesy HayHouse

By DANIEL BURKE
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) By age 35, Congressman Tim Ryan had been one of Ohio’s youngest state senators, served two terms in the U.S. Congress and hobnobbed with presidents and prime ministers.

But a different story, full of unmet ambitions and caustic self-criticism, coursed through Ryan’s mind, carrying him away from even the most important moments.

“I was so caught up in my story that I missed my life,” the Ohio Democrat writes in his new book, “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.”

Practicing mindfulness meditation, Ryan says, has quieted the nattering

internal narrative, making him more relaxed, focused and compassionate. Now 39, the five-term congressman is enlisting teachers, doctors, business leaders, scientists and military personnel in a “quiet revolution” to bring mindfulness to the masses.

Ryan, a Roman Catholic, spoke recently with Religion News Service about how meditation helped him avoid burnout, how it resembles praying the rosary, and why you don’t have to be a Buddhist to meditate. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: The book came out of my going around the county to meet scientists studying mindfulness; teachers using it in schools; health care practitioners implementing it in our health care system; our military using it to treat veterans and build mental resilience. And I thought the world needed to see what they are doing. They are pioneers in what will be the next great movement in the United States: the movement of mindfulness.

Q: When did your interest in mindfulness start?

A: It started a long time ago. My grandparents and my mom prayed the rosary a lot, and later in life I had a priest friend of mine teach me centering prayer, based on Father Thomas Keating’s work. That led to practicing different kinds of meditation off and on as I got older.

Q: And when did you begin to consistently practice meditation?

A: I had been running extremely hard with my job and traveling across Ohio and the country to help Democrats take back the House in 2006, and then there was the presidential election. I was 35 and I thought, “I’m going to be burned out by the time I’m 40. I really need to jump-start my meditation practice.” Two days after the presidential election, I spent five days at a retreat in increasing levels of silence. It reminded me of how I felt when I played sports: being in “the zone” with mind and body grounded in the present moment.

Q: And you continue to meditate every day?

A: Yes, 40 to 45 minutes every morning before I leave the house and go out into the world.

Q: Has meditation changed how you do your job in Congress?

A: I feel like I choose better what issues are really important to my constituents and to me, as opposed to thinking that you can somehow address every issue across the political spectrum. You just have to figure out where you are going to put your attention. That’s something that everyone is trying to figure out, whether you’re a congressman or a single mom.

Q: So, do you think you’d want to introduce mindfulness to Speaker John Boehner or Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?

A: (Laughs) If anybody wanted to try it, I’d be happy to point them in the right direction.

Q: What would you tell Boehner, for example?

A: He plays golf, and I might say that if you look at high-performing golfers, they are not over a 15-foot putt thinking about the meeting they are going to have tomorrow. They are thinking about sinking the putt. It’s all about coordinating the body and mind to be in the present moment, and how powerful that can be.

Q: Because of mindfulness’ Buddhist roots, a lot of people think it’s a religious practice. How does your meditation relate to your Catholic faith?

A: If you love your neighbor and are compassionate, are you automatically a Christian? Practicing present-moment awareness does not entail joining any religion or accepting any belief system. As a Catholic, I find mindfulness helps me participate in my religion more wholeheartedly. If you are praying the rosary, participating in the rituals at Mass or listening to the priest preach, you will actually be paying attention! Whatever your religion is, it can enhance the experience of participating in that religion. What’s more beautiful than that?

Q: There do seem to be some Buddhist concepts in your book, such as the interconnectedness of all beings. Has meditation made you more interested in Buddhist philosophy?

A: I love studying different religions. For me, learning and drawing from the different religious traditions is essential to being a good public servant. And the connections between our various religious traditions become our public ethic; they tie us together.

Ministry for people with disabilities coming to the Carolinas

Wheelchair by the lake. Photo courtesy of Special Touch Ministries.

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

According to Special Touch Ministries, the statistics are staggering: 58 million handicapped people in our country are unreached by the church.

One out of five families in America have a handicapped family member, and the divorce rate of marriages with handicapped children is 98 percent. There is a tremendous need to help these families.

Marshall and Gilda Wise know this need first hand. They know the

Marshall and Gilda Wise with their son, Chad. Photo courtesy of the Wise family.

physical, mental and emotional challenges of families with handicapped children because their son, Chad, has cerebral palsy. Perhaps this is why after retiring from pastoral ministry in January 2011, they decided to expand the national Special Touch Ministries, Inc. to North Carolina and South Carolina.

Special Touch Ministries, Inc. was founded by Debbie and Charles Chivers in 1982 when they held a summer camp in Wisconsin for children and adults with disabilities. Only 32 people attended the Summer Get A Way that first year, but the camp attendance continued to double each summer, and the ministry has expanded nationwide. The camps and chapters can now be found in Oklahoma, Arizona, New England, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

A Summer Get-A-Way for our area is in the making. Wise hopes to have a camp developed for the Carolinas by 2013. These “get-a-ways” include recreational and worship experiences tailored for the handicapped ages 10 and older.

A Get-A-Way camper. Photo courtesy of Special Touch Ministries.

But Special Touch Ministries is not just about a summer camp,. It’s about reaching out to people with disabilities and their caregivers and supporting them with local chapters all year long. The chapters are interdenominational groups who meet once a month for support, fun activities and fellowship. They are love in action.

They are also the source for funding the Summer Get-A-Way camps. Each chapter reaches out to the businesses and churches in the community for financial support.

Finally, Special Touch desires to raise awareness of the lack of involvement of handicapped people within our churches. Many disabled in our community are bored and isolated. They need to be given a purpose, which is the difference between existing and living.

Questions Marshal Wise wants churches to ask are:

  • Besides providing handicapped parking and ramps, how is the church ministering to this special group?
  • Does the church provide classes for special needs?
  • Do we have a place of ministry for them?
  • Are we providing respite for the caregivers?

Interviewing Marshall and Gilda Wise made me realize how few handicapped people I remembered in the many churches I’ve attended throughout my life. Why is that? Where have they been?

As Gilda so beautifully put it, “People with disabled bodies don’t have disabled spirits.”

Let’s walk the talk.

To get involved email: the3wiseguys@specialtouch.org

Wilmington Med Mob plans sound bath for Sunday

A flash mob meditation gathered in front of the Federal Building on N. Water St in Wilmington Saturday, October 29, 2011. This was the first meditation organized by the group Medmob. Photo by Matt Born/StarNewsOnline.com

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

Usually, flash mobs are associated with a sudden group of people flooding a public square or even a library to play music or dance to Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller.”

But this weekend Greenfield Lake Park will host a flash mob of quiet meditators.

The Flash Mob Silent Meditation and Sound Bath will be at 11 a.m. Sunday (April 15) at Greenfield Lake Park (not the amphitheater) at 421 South, Burnett Boulevard.

“A large group of sitting meditators will exude an inner peace, strength, and happiness intended to brighten the day of every observer,” said Wilmington Med Mob’s web site. The mediation should be about an hour with about 10 minutes of “sound bath” or continuous Om meditation sounds. There will also live drumming and dancing at the conclusion of the event.

The group’s goal, according to its web site is “to expose the world to meditation through public display of meditation, to create an environment for people from all walks of life to come together in meditation and to come together as a global community to create and expand positive intention and action.”

Watch this video of a sound bath and meditation in Texas.

Details: www.facebook.com/medmob.wilmington

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

Meet Lynn Heritage, our peace writer

Meet Lynn Heritage, our peace writer.

She’s a North Carolina native and lives in Carolina Beach with her husband, Dave, and their dog, Sadie Mae. As a mom, grandma, sister, aunt and friend, Heritage believes her love for the people in her life is reason enough to take a stand for peace.

After retiring from the corporate world five years ago, Heritage volunteers twice a week in a first grade classroom at Gregory Elementary School and at the Lower Cape Fear YWCA as a facilitator for “What’s Wrong With Different,” an anti-racism program.

She’s also the coordinator of the Southeastern Chapter of International Grandmothers For Peace, which celebrated its fifth year last year.

Moving so close to the ocean opened her heart in ways she never anticipated and because of it, she’s found the courage to travel inward to connect with her spiritual center. Peace is her mantra because “the thought of peace… the hope of peace…the belief in peace and, most certainly, the need of peace is paramount in my soul. When I breathe in the spirit of my mantra, p-e-a-c-e, it resonates with all that is me.”

Welcome, Lynn!

Three cheers for Mormons and other “healthy faiths”

By Contributor Cynthia Barnett

The effect of religion on health is probably too huge a question to study easily. Certainly, one short blog can’t provide a full account of what is today being learned. But there are consistent tidbits coming out of contemporary studies that remind those of us who have a spiritual practice the importance of focusing on loving God more than all else and not making anything an idol.

Here’s one example. Many of us know Mormons are taught clear and prudent ways to live. They focus on commitment to both marriage and family stability. They neither smoke nor drink alcohol. And, they don’t use caffeine. It’s also understood they don’t use illegal drugs.

Sound too prissy for you? Listen up, anyone who wants a healthier life. A study by UCLA indicates these choices are direct contributors to improved health and longevity.

According to a Ford Motor Company newsletter on various faiths and religious practices:

1.) A UCLA study revealed that practicing Mormons live longer than most Americans, men by 11 years, and women by eight years.

2.) Utah, arguably the state with the most Mormons, ranks 50th in the nation in smoking, alcohol consumption, drunk driving, heart disease and sick days.

The studyprovides a glimpse, not only into the improvements in

Health

Health (Photo credit: 401K)

individual health, but also to the overall impact of healthcare costs and incalculable suffering and economic impact connected with drunk driving, heart disease and “sick days.”

Studies such as these, tracking the connection between health and religion, offer other interesting insights. One of those is that the benefits of a connection between spirituality and health are not unique to any particular faith practice. For me, as someone who comes out of a Judeo-Christian background, this speaks of the universality of the idea that when we focus on growing our understanding of God (no matter what we call the Divine) and turn away from material things that become idols, we can rest assured of greater well-being.

I’m not in the business of converting folks to religion, not even my own. But as a Christian Scientist whose religion also teaches avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful habits like gambling and overeating, I can’t help but be grateful for the growing body of evidence which shows that focusing on “mindfulness practices” including spirituality and religion leads to better health and better communities. It’s certainly been my experience for more than 50 years.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Today’s Viewpoints question is a highly theological one, but it got my writers talking. And hopefully you, dear readers, will chime in with a few thoughts, too.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier

My response to that question reflects my experience with a “human higher power”—my father. Daddy was an immigrant from Italy and an older parent. I was the first of four children, born when my father was 44 years old in the days when parenting at that age was unusual. He reflected his Victorian-era birthing time and was a strict disciplinarian. We never asked why, we only responded to his demands. This did not mean he was cruel or abusive. It just underscored a limited relationship based on fear of angering him or disappointing him or annoying him. Fear obliterated deep love.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when that kind of fear translated into my understanding of God as a paternal taskmaster who counted all the good deeds but also kept strict score of errors of any sort. Walking on spiritual eggs made a faith journey nearly impossible.

As I grew in wisdom, various experiences caused me to examine my consciousness of love and fear as opposites. I could not love a God I feared. I could not continue to fear a God I wished to love.

So, I took a chance. I decided to believe I could never do anything to make God love me more; nor could I do anything to make God love me less.

The result has been astoundingly freeing. I both love and trust God. Fear has been banished. In its place, there is awesome love, love that impels me into an ever-deepening relationship both with God and all creation.

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Steve Lee

Steve Lee

From a Buddhist perspective, this question is irrelevant. In fact, the questions about the very existence of a higher power are irrelevant. The essence of the Buddhist project is threefold: individual and societal awakening to the true nature of existence, realizing the true nature of existence in everyday life and becoming liberated from the debilitating effects of a false understanding of the true nature of existence. The true nature of existence is summarized in the three Buddhist principles of annica, dukha, and annata: life is impermanent; life includes those things that we typically avoid or fear—such as old age, sickness and death—and there is no permanent, abiding self.

All of the many and varied Buddhist practices are aimed at awakening, realization and liberation. Spending time debating the existence of a higher power or the nature of a relationship to a higher power becomes a diversion from the path of awakening, work that is mostly individual and internal. Nyanaponika Thera, writing in “In Buddhism and the God-Idea”, quotes a passage of scripture that gets at the diversionary quality of questions about a higher power:

“Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!”

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Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

My mother always told me her image of God kept her from getting close to him. She said she always imagined him as having a long white beard and angry, flashing eyes. I don’t know a lot about her childhood other than her father was less than attentive. Perhaps that is why her image of God the Father was less than welcoming.

My image of a higher power doesn’t engender fear. Witches don’t see god or the gods as most in the mainstream religions do. Our higher power is one that allows us to make mistakes. Any punishment we receive is via karma or through our own doing. We believe what you do will be visited upon you three-fold, not by some faceless entity but through Universal Law. If you send out negative energy, it comes back to you with increased force. It’s like throwing a boomerang. Good or bad, you always get released energy coming back to you.

And because Pagans in general believe in both male and female deities, we also have a balanced perspective. The masculine strength of the father figure is balanced by the nurturing softness of the mother. It’s hard to fear something that guides and comforts you. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to Paganism in the first place. There is male and female energy in everything, a yin and a yang. But religion in general has exempted itself from that duality and only seems to recognize the male, in most cases. Mary was instrumental in bringing forth Jesus, but once her job was done she was relegated to a minor supporting role. That’s rather sad, because that female energy makes the Divine far less intimidating, and much more approachable to me and others who are attracted to both the Mother and Father aspect.

I guess my short answer is that the question doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear consequences from a Higher Power. I have more fear of my own weaknesses. And any negative consequences I’ve ever suffered came not through punishment from above, but through my own doing.

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Gabrielle Barone, guest contributor

“The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding.” Job 28:28.

There are a lot of references to fear of God in the Old and New Testaments. But what does the word fear really mean? In the Old Testament, there are at least four different Hebrew words for fear. Yirah and pachad have to do with fear, terror and dread, whereas yare and kabad are reverence, honor and glorification. The New Testament Greek has four words for fear: timao and eulabeia are honor, veneration and value; phobeo is shocking and paralytic ; and deilia, which is timidity and cowardice. In our relationship with the Divine all of these aspects of fear come into play at one time or another. As an evangelical Christian, I know the fear of God is linked to the revelation of his sovereignty. He is a God who is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and MINE; a God who frightens me into his strong and powerful arms and whispers three terrifying words, “I love you.” As C.S. Lewis said “Is God good? Yes. But He is not safe.” The presence of the Divine has always brought fear to the heart of sinful man, but the fear that leads to wisdom is acknowledging we can’t go it alone. We need a savior.

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Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

One of the Hindu scriptures answers this question with vivid imagery. In “The Bhagavad Gita,” Prince Arjuna has an inner vision of Lord Krishna’s “terrifying and marvelous cosmic form.” (BG 11:20)

At first, Arjuna falls “in adoration before the Lord” as Creator: “Clothed in mantles of light and garlands of blossoming heavens – the infinite, wondrous and resplendent One – facing everywhere simultaneously,” enhanced with “an indescribable fragrance.” (BG 11:11, 14).

Next, Arjuna prostrates in awe when he meets the Sustainer, whose “body is the entire cosmos… the treasure house of the universe, the refuge of all creatures, the eternal guardian of timeless wisdom.” (BG 11:16, 18).

Then Arjuna sees the Divine as the Destroyer: “When I look into your terrible jaws with fearful tusks, I see the fires of the end of time… Now I understand that all creatures, like moths to a flame, are rushing headlong into your gaping jaws of death.” (BG 11:25, 29).

Fearful, Arjuna begins “trembling uncontrollably” and pleads: “I am terrified by your cosmic form. O God of gods… mercifully show your more familiar form to me.” (BG 11:35, 45).

For Arjuna to love Krishna again, he has to reduce the Divine within to a human form.

I believe, like Arjuna, we are in turn in adoration before the Divine, or prostrated in awe, or pleading in fear. At any time in our lives, ours is the power to choose which aspect of the Divine within we want to activate.

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Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I don’t think anyone can come to know God through fear. Only loves draws us to him, yet he is holy. He is perfect love. Just as we can’t survive in the presence of pure oxygen, we can’t survive in the presence of pure love. But he made a way.

The God I respect and love is the God who died for me. He made a way for me to stand in his perfect presence one day. Until then, his Holy Spirit is my teacher, purifier and friend. His love changes me.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19).

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 40, “Am I a brave Christian?”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian has blogged for 40 days of Lent (including Sundays) about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” This was the last day of her Lenten experiment. Read about her experiment by searching this site for “One Brave Christian Experiment.”

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Today’s day 40 of my 40-day Lenten experiment. I ask myself the question: “Am I a ‘brave Christian’?”

The answer that comes to me is: “Yes and No.”

If being a Christian means “accepting Jesus as my savior,” the answer is “No.”

If it means “living my life in accordance to what Jesus taught,” the answer is “Yes.”

What I have learned from this experiment is what I already knew:

– First, my Bible study gave me the certainty that the words and

Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

teachings of Jesus are aimed at leading us back to our inner divinity.

– Second, in my understanding of the scriptures, Jesus opened that path for us through the gates of forgiveness and love.

– Third, I think these teachings point to a universal truth. They belong to all spiritual traditions and are not exclusive to Christianity.

My experience strengthened my world faith approach to spirituality.

I am grateful to both Sam Teague, the creator of the experiment, and Danny Morris, the author of “A Life That Really Matters,” for this program.

Special thanks go to Stowe Dailey Shockey for giving me her book “Flying High,” and to her co-author Calvin LeHew for sharing his experience as a “brave Christian.”

I enjoyed the discipline of writing everyday. I think it made me a better writer.

I am grateful to www.wilmingtonfavs.com editor, Amanda Greene, for believing in my commitment and supporting me along the way.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity I had to share my process with my readers. I am thankful for their comments.

My fondest gratitude goes to my boyfriend, Jim Downer, for his unfailing support and listening presence. I love you, Jim!

Blessings of Love and Light to All!

My solution to family tragedy: Mindful Writing

By Contributor Jennifer Johnson

I began an in-depth exploration of various writing practices years ago following my mother’s suicide attempt.

I had studied a number of writing practices, but I hadn’t found one in which I could find an ease, a resting place.

So I created my own practice I call Mindful Writing based on a blend of

Writing illustration by Jennifer Johnson

my study and practice of Insight Meditation, various writing techniques and therapeutic writing.

Writing about my experience mindfully helped me to make order from the chaos and make meaning from the tragedy that had occurred in my family.

Mindful Writing involves the writer entering the practice with mindfulness meditation, listening to her/his thoughts and writing what she/he hears.

Unlike most practices that encourage the writer to write as quickly as possible, I encourage the writer to write slowly, so it becomes a mindfulness practice of being present with what arises in the writer’s thoughts in each passing moment.

The practice is most powerful when undertaken within the support of a facilitated group. I participated in a weekly facilitated writing group for a number of years similar, in some regards, to this practice. The very act of writing what wanted to have a voice within me and then reading it aloud in a group while receiving guidance and feedback from the facilitator provided an experience of learning to trust my own voice.

It offered a warm environment in which I could express anything that arose in me in response to my family’s tragedy and feel a sense of connectedness, belonging and acceptance by a group of fellow writers on the path.

Writer's desk illustration by Jennifer Johnson

Week by week, the writing helped me to transform the suffering in my experience and helped me to heal. The writing, along with my own mindfulness practice, was such a powerful experience I became passionate about creating a Mindful Writing technique, combining the two things most healing for me: Insight Meditation practice and a healing writing process.

This practice isn’t about building one’s writing craft. It’s about accessing the inner well of creative flow, learning to trust one’s authentic writing voice and healing.

In addition to my Mindful Writing: The Path to Creative Freedom workshop and daylong retreat, I offer an online therapeutic writing workshop called Mindful Writing for Transformation.

This transformative workshop provides an individual interaction with me in which beginning or experienced writers receive a text-based lesson weekly and then email me their writing for guidance and response. People come to this workshop in transition or dealing with suffering of some sort, such as anxiety, depression, grief or loss, war, accident, abuse-related trauma, stress or illness.

Participants learn mindfulness skills for managing the difficult emotions related to the painful events, and through their writing, they begin to transform the suffering.

With a mindful approach to writing, we can heal this world one story at a time.

My next Mindful Writing for Transformation online six-week workshop is March 23 – April 27, 2012. Cost is $125. Please email jen@everydaymindful.com to register.

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 2, Sacred Ground

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Last night, I called a Silent Unity prayer partner, prayed to feel loved and appreciated and went to bed by 8 p.m., exhausted but peaceful. I woke up a few times, prayed again, then fell sound asleep until… 7:30 a.m. today.

I’d missed my date with Sam Teague.

When he came up with his experiment to “live a life that really matters,” Teague required the participants to follow his “five disciplines” to the letter. I was fine with four of them:

– Meet once a week to pray together: I set up @1bravechristian on Twitter for virtual prayer-sharing.

– Give two hours each week to God: I’d already called Sister Mary Isaac Koenig to volunteer at St. Mary Catholic Church’s Tileston Outreach.

– Give God one-tenth of their earnings: I’ve been tithing since forever.

– Witness for God their experiences to others: I’ll blog everyday at www.wilmingtonfavs.com.

I thought I could pull off the fifth discipline in style, after my daily yoga practice: spend time each morning in prayer, meditation and writing down goals.

Except for the last little detail: from 5:30 to 6 a.m.

If Day One was literally about counting minutes, Day Two was definitely about staying in the now.

Suddenly, I knew what to do.

The Wrightsville Beach mailbox filled with things, lost and found. It also holds a journal of wishes. Photo by Christine Moughamian

I grabbed my coat, my camera and drove to Wrightsville Beach. There, I walked to the North End until I found, relocated behind a broken sand dune, the special marker I was looking for: the mailbox.

I opened it, pulled out the plastic-wrapped journal in which people have written prayers, wishes and dreams. Over the years, the Mailbox has become an organic shrine on the beach, decorated with shells, feathers, lost sunglasses and anonymous memorabilia.

Christine's prayer page in the Wrightsville Beach journal. Photo by Christine Moughamian

I knelt down and wrote a few lines in the journal.

“Blessings of Gratitude for the mailbox, the sacred ground of so many intimate epiphanies.”

And this.

“Merci to Silent Unity for reminding me that as I practice loving myself, respecting and honoring myself, I will feel loved, respected and honored by family and friends.”

And this.

“Let this be a reminder that sacred ground is and always will be in me!”

Christine and the mailbox. Photo by Guillaume Guillaume

Is mindfulness spiritual or secular or yoga? Yes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Contributor Jennifer Johnson

Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without judgment. It involves slowing down and focusing the attention on the body, feelings and mind.

It is an invitation to be in the present moment with our sensations, thoughts and feelings and to acknowledge them, without judging them as good, bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Maintaining attention on the present moment prevents us from becoming lost in regret about the past and worried about the future, thus allowing us to experience a state of calm and peace.

Mindfulness meditation is most often associated with Vipassana, or Insight meditation. Its origins can be traced back to the Siddharta

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Image of Buddha via Wikipedia

Gautama, a prince who taught 2,500 years ago. He said meditation was a path to enlightenment, the alleviation of suffering and ignorance. After his own experience of enlightenment, Siddharta Gautama became known as the Buddha, a title that means “one who is awake.”

Contrary to the beliefs of some, those who practice mindfulness meditation are not worshiping Buddha as a god but are following a spiritual path toward enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering and ignorance. Persons of all religious faiths can practice mindfulness meditation, and people find it complements their own religious practices and beliefs.

For a number of years, scientists have utilized modern medical technology to study the brains of Buddhist monks. They found increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex of experienced Buddhist practitioners. This area of the brain is associated with empathy and happiness or pleasant feelings. Studies also documented changes in brain wave activity, with increased brain waves that produce calm and peacefulness.

Mindfulness meditation has become a common practice in America, both as a spiritual practice and a secular practice. Many yoga studios across the country offer classes in mindfulness meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course at University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 as a secular practice to alleviate suffering among patients in the hospital. The program is offered at hundreds of locations internationally, including Duke Integrative Medicine and Stanford Hospital and Medical Schoolin Durham, N.C. MBSR teaches meditation and gentle yoga for stress reduction and cultivating a sense of peace and ease.

MBSR has been well researched during the past several decades and has been shown to reduce anxiety, panic and depression. The practice can relieve symptoms related to a variety of medical conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, headache, fibromyalgia, Diabetes Type I, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and more.

Whether practiced in a spiritual or secular way, mindfulness meditators are generally interested in alleviating suffering, and most report increased feelings of peace, ease and wellbeing.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course will be offered in Wilmington at McKay Healing Arts on Thursdays, Feb. 2 – March 29 with a day of mindfulness from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.  on Sunday, March 18.

Jennifer Johnson is the instructor for the course. For additional information, visit www.everydaymindful.com/mbsr and to register email jen@everydaymindful.com or call 910-208-0518. Also watch for Jennifer’s upcoming weekly class on Meditation and Gentle Yoga at Organic Yoga in Wilmington.