Christian Mindfulness

October 03 2018 | by

ONE OF society’s current phases is mindfulness. Mindfulness, as defined by one internet blog, is “paying attention to the present moment with awareness and without emotional reactivity.” Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami and the director of contemplative neuroscience for the UMindfulness Initiative, asserts that mindfulness “doesn’t require any particular worldview or spiritual or religious belief system.” Saint Anthony, however, would note that mindfulness becomes more effective when God is part of it.

Dr. Amishi Jha compares our attention to “a flashlight you can direct to whatever you choose.” Since our mind wanders 50 percent of our waking hours, most of us are continually distracted. Every interruption of our attention is “a basic hijacking of our attentional resources away from the task at hand,” says Jha. Mindfulness training helps minimize the distractions. Jha calls mindfulness training a “portable brain fitness routine to keep our attention strong.” Mindful people also reap other benefits, including “reduced anxiety, protection from depression relapse, and improved working memory.”


Mindful breathing


Techniques which Jha recommends include focused attention such as ‘mindful breathing.’ “To do mindful breathing, sit in a comfortable, upright position and focus all your attention on…  breathing.” As your brain wanders, continue to pull it back “like a puppy you are training to walk on a leash.” Mindful walking, which consists in being attentive to what is happening as you walk, is another mindful exercise.

A technique called open monitoring “helps you learn to pay attention to what’s happening around you without becoming attached to it… it’s about remaining open to any experience – internal or external – that arises and allowing it to wash over you.” Jha says, “you just notice its occurrence and allow it to dissipate.” You are basically watching your thoughts move through your mind like you might watch clouds move through the sky. Doing these exercises for 15 minutes a day produces positive results. “If you do more,” Jha says, “you benefit more.”

These ‘new’ techniques are really time tried methods of meditation! Richard J. Davidson, PhD, and Arianna Huffington, in their article Meditation Is Clear, conclude that mindfulness “is summoned up perfectly in the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The authors conclude that “meditation can improve focus, lower stress, improve emotional regulation, help us get back to a task at hand after being distracted, and enhance compassion and creativity.” Mindfulness is far from passivity. In fact, “the drive to pursue activities perceived as important, valued, or enjoyable – appears to be higher among mindful individuals.” Some companies are training employees to be mindful because “it brings about equanimity, creativity and peace.”




All religious orders have their members practice mindfulness (meditation), and those who practice it best often became saints. St Francis wanted his friars to be meditative, so he had them spend time in contemplation at secluded hermitages. St Anthony was at such a hermitage when his prowess for preaching was discovered.

Anthony recognized that, other than Jesus the God Man, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the single human being who practiced mindfulness perfectly. Anthony concluded that, at the Annunciation, “Mary was ‘within’; enclosed, when the angel entered. It was because she was ‘within’ that she merited a blessing. Those who are always abroad do not deserve the angel’s greeting… He who goes out in public places does not deserve to be greeted by God or by his angel, who love what is secret” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals III, pp. 418-419; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizoni Messaggero Padova). In other words, if we want God’s blessing, we must go into that quiet, inner place in our heart where distractions are minimized so that the Holy Spirit may enter.




Anthony frequently likened contemplation to birds flying upward toward the sun, a symbol of God. Anthony recognized two types of birds, those with short feet who keep their feet tucked up when flying, and those with long legs who fly with their legs stretched out behind.

Like birds, contemplatives fall into two groups. “Some have to care for others, and this is a hindrance to them. Others have no such responsibilities, for themselves or for others, and they pay no heed to their own needs” (Sermons II, p. 408). Contemplatives “who do not attend to others or themselves, as it were draw up their feet to their bellies (I mean their affections, brief and short). They recollect themselves, so that with unified mind they may fly more easily, and fix their mind’s eye with unshakable gaze upon the golden splendor of the sun” (Sermons II, p. 408). In other words, distractions are fewer for those like cloistered religious whose main work is contemplation.

However, for those in active ministry, the case is different. “My brother: when you are serving your brother, set your feet before you, devote yourself entirely to him; but when you are attending to God, let your feet stretch behind, so that your flight may be free. Forget what lies behind, the duties and good deeds you have been engaged in, and will do again, and in prayer set aside all thoughts of them. They often occur, and they greatly hinder the mind of the contemplative” (Sermons II, p. 408). This is Anthony’s way of describing Jha’s mindfulness techniques.




Anthony recognized mindfulness in the call of the apostles: “Once, while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break” (Luke 5:1-6). Jesus tells the apostles that, from now on, they will be catching men; they leave their nets and follow him.

Anthony recognizes that one needs obedience to be mindful. Simon Peter let Jesus come into his boat. He also lowered the nets when Christ asked. To be successful at contemplation, we must be stimulated by neither pride nor lust, by neither greed nor worry. Our concern should be God and neighbor. There, between good works and holy thoughts, God will grant us peace.

“Dearest brothers, let us pray the Lord Jesus Christ himself to make us go up into Simon’s ship by obedience; to sit in the ivory throne of humility and chastity; to steer our ship away from earthly things towards the deep of contemplation; and to let down our nets for a catch: so that with a multitude of good works you may attain to him, who is the good and supreme God. May he be blessed to grant us this, who lives and reigns forever. Amen” (Sermons II, p. 128).

Updated on October 09 2018