Professor Justin Marks, Bowdoin College Mathematics
In the recent months, I have become intrigued by the culturally popular concept of mindfulness. I have frequently seen and heard mindfulness mentioned on the Bowdoin campus. What is it? What is its purpose? Is it something I personally want in my life?
I left midcoast Maine for a spring break on the sunny shores of California, but the “mindfulness” buzzword followed me coast to coast. Sitting down to wait for the creation of my personalized acai bowl in downtown Palo Alto, I spied a colorful, worn book lying on the communal table: “Living in the Moment: with Mindfulness Meditations” by Anna Black. Grateful for the opportunity to develop a better grasp of mindfulness, I flipped through the wrinkled pages. Black defines mindfulness as “deliberately paying attention to things we normally would not even notice, and becoming aware of our present moment experience as it arises, non-judgmentally, and with kindness and compassion.” Black proceeds to describe exercises and practices to enhance mindfulness.
My soul resonates with much of Black’s mindfulness definition. I am an advocate of paying attention to the simplicities of life often overlooked in our fast-paced society. I agree that we cannot dwell on the past or be anxious about the future. It is essential to consider the current moment and be fully alive now. Additionally, a heart of love, including kindness and compassion, is necessary to favorably enhance the lives of the individuals we encounter from moment to moment.
I find ample evidence in the life of Jesus to support these aspects of mindfulness. In Matthew 14:19, Jesus thanked his Father for the loaves and fishes, recognizing that the simple lunch of a young boy was a gift from His Father in heaven. He did not overlook the blessing in the present moment, and the one lunch become lunch for the entire multitude. Jesus was often moved with compassion to act for good. For instance, he miraculously fed thousands of people (Matthew 15:32), taught spiritual truths (Mark 6:34), healed the sick (Matthew 14:14, Matthew 20:34, Mark 1:41), and raised the dead to life (Luke 7:12-15), all because of His compassion. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus encouraged Martha to avoid worry and anxiety, and applauded Mary for being present and listening to His teaching. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus directs us to not worry about tomorrow. The foundation for our freedom from worry is our identity as sons/daughters of a good Father who will provide for us, just as He provides for the sparrows and the lilies.
On the other hand, there is one word of Black’s definition which causes me to hesitate: “non-judgmentally”. When I observe the response of Jesus to his circumstances, he frequently delineates between good and bad, right and wrong, holy and unholy.
In 1 John 3:8, we learn, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. In order to destroy the works of the devil, there must be a judgment regarding which works are in fact of the devil. Consider the flipping of the tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13), the healing of the crippled woman (Luke 13:10-16), the deliverance from demons of the man in Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-20), and the rebuke of Peter (Matthew 16:21-23). In each of these instances, Jesus makes a judgment. He judges the greed and corruption of the moneychangers and merchants bad, and holiness of the temple good. He judges a crippled back bad, and a healthy, able body good. He judges demon possession as bad, and freedom from demons and sanity good. He judges an earthly mindset bad, and a heavenly mindset good.
The example of Peter’s mindset is particularly relevant, as it reminds us that God cares deeply about mindfulness: of which ideas are our minds full? In Philippians 4:8, Paul commands us to have minds fixed on what is true, noble, pure, excellent, and praiseworthy. In Colossians 3:2, he tells us to fix our minds on things above, in the heavenly realm. In Romans 8:5-8, Paul invites us to fix our mind on the Spirit, not the flesh, because a mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, while a mind set on the flesh is death. In these passages, we understand that we are encouraged to be mindful, not just of the material world that we can see and feel, but, even more importantly, of the spiritual realm. And this is the dimension where the cultural notion of mindfulness falls short of the biblical notion of mindfulness. If our awareness is only tuned to the material, earthly realm, we will miss the substantive reality of the moment. Peter missed the heavenly revelation that Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a necessary sacrifice to institute forgiveness, and that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead would be a fountain of abundant life for those who believe. Although the cultural notion of mindfulness resembles the truth in many ways, it is a counterfeit to the notion of mindfulness modeled by Jesus and presented in scripture, in which judgments are indeed required and the spiritual dimension outshines the earthly dimension.
In my life, mindfulness involves filling my mind with spiritual truth and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I meditate daily on scripture, immersing my mind in the realities of the spiritual dimension. As I listen to the Holy Spirit throughout the day, He communicates in pictures and words, often intended to be shared with another individual for their edification. These practices are foundational aspects of following Jesus. Accordingly, I am an advocate of a spiritual mindfulness rooted in the truth of a layered created world that is more than the material, more than the visible, more than the temporal.
Rejuvenated by my acai bowl, I crossed the street and met a homeless man who was declaring the truth of Jesus Christ in a public square. He shared that he needed prayer for his neck, where a cancerous tumor had developed. I laid my hand on his neck and released healing to him. Afterwards, I encouraged him for his boldness and creative presentation of the gospel, even in the midst of a false gospel message being presented by nearby Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a moment of compassionate, spiritually-aware, fully-present, and rightly-judging mindfulness. Do I always engage the world in this fashion? No. But as I follow Jesus, who set the perfect example of mindfulness, I will be conformed to His image, from glory to glory.