Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  mental health,  mindfulness,  self care

Mindful Mondays {week 1}

I’ve been dabbling in my expansive spare time in the very highly recommended “Catholic Mindfulness” program offered online by Dr. Greg Bottaro of Catholic Psych. And it’s awesome. I’m 2.5 weeks into 8 (and I should be 5 but c’est la vida con bambini <– multiculturalism right thur) and I’m already starting to look forward to revisiting the sessions for a second time. And I’m the least likely person who should be touting this to you, because I live much of my life in a haze of borderline panic which is antithetical to everything I’m learning here. Which is maaaaybe what makes me such an ironically excellent candidate.

Some pertinent information up front:

Mindfulness is not some kind of eastern mysticism or a hippie dippie corporate wellness concept. The term was coined in the late 70’s by a researcher working with chronic pain patients at the UMass medical center. And it didn’t exist before then. You can’t go back into the annuls of time and dig up ancient Zen mindfulness meditations. Jon Kabot-Zinn recognized some undergirding concepts from his own personal practice of Buddhism – namely an attentive, peaceful state of mind – could be separated from the religious worship and applied in a secular setting to assist his patients in their suffering. And so mindfulness was born.

But wait, isn’t that like doing yoga while saying the rosary and pretending there’s nothing inherently spiritual about the various poses? Nope. Kabot-Zinn didn’t co-opt any particularly Buddhist concepts or elements of worship and replicate them for his patients. He simply saw something that was essentially true and good – maintaining an interior peace and mental focus – and realized it could be useful when practiced in a completely secular application to help his suffering clients. And quite contrary to the practice of emptying one’s mind with the hope of achieving nothingness, mind-FULL-nes seeks an awakening to reality, a discipline of becoming fully present to the moment.

I hope that’s clear enough. If anyone has lingering doubts about the concept, recall that the Church has a long and robust history of finding what is true, good and beautiful in any culture and correctly identifying it as such. We Christians don’t have a corner on the market of reality, we’re just fortunate to be able to correctly identify it as “His” when we do encounter it.

Dr. Bottaro has, in this course, successfully wedded the practice of mindfulness to a profound Christian truth which ought to undergird our experience of reality: that we are safe in the Father’s arms. That He created us, that He saved us, and that He is carrying us at every moment of our existence. 

And that is what makes this mental discipline so effective and so transformative. Because to be truly aware – moment to moment – of God’s total and sustaining love for us is to be profoundly engaged in reality. And to the extent that we can remain in reality and not fall prey to the one million distractions of work, laundry, kids, stress, pain, frustration, fear of the future, etc…is to find real peace.

That’s what I’ve taken from this course thus far: to remain in the reality of the present moment with God is the secret to real peace. 

Because suffering will come. Bad things will happen. Stressors will arise. Life will unfold in an unpredictable way. And yet if we truly believe and choose to live in the experience of the Father’s unwavering care for us, we needn’t lose our interior peace.

So these first 2 weeks have been very mind/body centered, building on an increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the connection between the two. In lesson 2 Dr. Bottaro even jokes that in practicing mindfulness, we are consciously battling the heresy of Dualism. And it’s not a joke! We live in a wildly incongruent era of alienation between body and soul. We too frequently experience the cultural truth of a “separateness” between our minds and our bodies. St. JPII made this reintegration of the person – an adequate anthropology – the work of his lifetime. And so much of what ails us as a society has it’s rotted roots in the false dichotomy between body and soul.

I’m finding it fascinating as I go through my days and parent the kids, pay the bills, visit the gym, scrub the toilets, pray the Mass, how frequently I’m mentally “checking out” to escape the boredom/tedium/pain/discomfort of any sort. And when I do check out, I’m learning to gently return my attention to the present moment. To engage consciously in the practice of living my actual life, not the life I’m looking forward to at 8:45 pm when everyone is finally in bed and Netflix is firing up.

I once heard or read that God dwells only in the present moment, and that therefore the enemy works tirelessly to keep us either ruminating on the past or fixated on the future. Actually, I think CS Lewis says something very like this in his Screwtape Letters:

“…a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

That’s essentially how I live my life. Every real gift offered to me now – this season of littleness, these cherubic messy cheeks, this house in constant need of upkeep and repairs, this youngish, healthy body capable of almost perpetual motion – I heap these gifts continuously on the altar of the future, burning them up in anticipation of some nebulously comfortable or satisfying “someday.”

But there is no such place. There is no such time.

St. Mother Teresa said it best:

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

That second part in particular seems to me to be the essential truth that underpins the whole practice of mindfulness: we have only today. Let us begin.

Next week I’ll start in on more of the practical applications of what I’m learning. But for today, try to stop in a moment of repetitive, ordinary work and allow yourself to be fully present in that moment. Maybe while brushing your teeth or loading the dishwasher or driving to work. Feel the water running over your hands or the tingling minty burn of the toothpaste against your gums. Allow yourself to connect with the solid shape and feel of the steering wheel beneath your fingers. Be present – wholly present – in the present moment.

It’s surprisingly wonderful. And surprisingly difficult. And my kids are acting verifiably psychotic this morning, so it’s deeply ironic that I’ve chosen this moment to write about it.

Or is it? Biiiiig wink.

mindful

13 Comments

  • BridgetAnn

    Thank you for the reminder not to live for 8:45pm (are our kids on the schedule?) or for the someday when they’re grown and I can have my “comfortable” life back again. I’ve been reminding myself to “lean into” the present moment, so thanks for the encouragement!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Work of a lifetime. I’m so guilty of wishing I could black out from 5-7:45 every.single.night. And then 20 minutes after they’re finally asleep I’m cooing to my husband about how precious they are. WUT.

  • jennifer

    Oooooh wow. This is so interesting, and so hard in this day and age of ubiquitous media! How often I’m attempting to distract myself from what’s really going on… the radio in the car, podcasts at the gym, TV while folding laundry, scrolling Facebook while waiting in the grocery line. Not that all of those things are inherently bad, but distraction shouldn’t always be the default. You’ve given me a lot to think about, thank you.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      yep, all the stimulation all the time. It’s eerie when you do step back because you have to confront your zombie self. Like, how much of my life am I *actually* present in?

  • star

    Love this article and this topic. I try to practice mindfulness and be present in life as much as possible; it seems inauthentic to go through life “checked out.” Something I have noticed, which may or may not be due to the fact that I am an introvert, is that if I find myself checking out from things, it may be that God is trying to tell me that these things are unnecessary. Not that one should not pay the bills, or scrub the toilets, but that you may be filling up your life with unnecessary obligations that society tells you should meet, but are not required in actuality. I have decided that two things are my highest priorities: my family (husband, 3-year-old, and new baby due any day now) and finishing my degree. This means I don’t have time to do things that others may try to pressure me into. I find (again, as an introvert) that I have much less stress when I say “no” to outside obligations; it also helps with mindfulness as I am not spread too thin or not working on my priorities. This may not work for more extroverted types, but I feel that since raising a family involves a lot of staying home, and schoolwork involves staying home, these two things go together; going out and socializing does not. I have noticed that this also means I don’t identify with people who talk about how crazy busy they are; either I couldn’t handle that level of stress and have already circumvented that as a possibility or I’m somewhere near the right track for being mindful and present in life, perhaps ready to listen for God if there is something he is calling me to do.

  • Patty

    You’re the second person this week to tell me about this organization! Gosh, I wish he had local resources more around different parts of the country. Sounds really interesting and worthwhile from what you say and the reading I am doing now on his website…happy studying and reading! 🙂

  • jeanette

    I am familiar with this topic, having read about it a few years ago.

    Often we learn about the doctrines of the faith, but not about the practice of the faith in daily life. The truth is, Catholics don’t really need a technique or program to follow, they need understanding about what the day they live is all about. Living in the present moment is not a new concept at all for Catholics. In fact the well-known Brother Lawrence, a Discalced Carmelite of the 17th Century, is an example. Look up his teachings in “The Practice of the Presence of God” — a quick little book to read, profoundly simple to understand. Another Carmelite you will already know, St. Therese of Lisieux, also is known to have said “I only have today” — I used to have a holy card with that on it, but in my last move I don’t know where it went! She also wrote a poem on the subject: “My Song for Today”

    A basic approach that every Catholic needs to have in life is this: each and everything you do throughout the day is done with and for God (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: for the greater glory of God). Every experience you have is a moment to experience God’s grace and goodness, whether in the joy or difficulty you have in that moment. Engaged in conversation with God as you move through your day enables one to really be present in the moment. It is recollection, even in the midst of busyness. If you think of the life of St. Benedict, and the “ora et labora” of the monastic life, you see the same structure. You even see it in the simple prayer of the Our Father: Give us THIS DAY our daily bread…a prayer of the present moment, neither more nor less.

    This program you are following is awakening you to something that was missing in your approach to life, but was already part of the ordinary Catholic orientation of the interior life. Once you train your mind to be focused with each moment you encounter in your day, you will see that is true. Another help is to bring order to the daily life, so as not to just go through the day randomly or erratically, as can easily happen when we are extremely busy or overwhelmed by all of our responsibilities.

  • Anne

    I am also enrolled in this course (I’m at week 3) and it’s just great. The world already looks calmer and more present. I think the biggest lesson I’m learning right now is that failure isn’t actually fatal 🙂

  • Dorothy

    Thank you! This is something that I always always always struggle with. Yet I KNOW from experience (don’t most people?) that I am much more at peace when I am truly living in the present moment. Again, thank you!

  • Cami

    Sounds worthwhile. While I am happy for those taking part, I am disappointed at the cost of the course. The average family (at least those I know), doesn’t have $250 to throw around. So as much as I appreciate the topic, it’s completely out of reach for us. My husband is currently working 2 jobs and still underemployed (we are having trouble affording groceries), but even when he had a decent paying job (prior to lay off), we still didn’t have this kind of money to apply to anything for ourselves. A bit ironic that devout Catholic families who tend to be larger in size (and would actually be attracted to such a course, to aid in improving their busy family-life experience) may not be in the position to afford this opportunity.

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