How to Handle Difficult Emotions Part 9: Christian Mindfulness


How to Handle Difficult Emotions Part 8:

Christian Mindfulness

Let God's Love Shine Trough You


Mindfulness has a bad press in Christian circles. However, Phil Monroe writes that it is important to point out that Buddhism is not the only religion that espouses meditational practices. Christianity, from the beginning of the Church, has promoted the concept of meditation.


We are all looking for relief from the chaos and violence in our own minds. Most people don't know that we Christians have inherited many spiritual tools to help us break through the clouds of gnats and mosquitoes in our minds that we call obsessive thinking, worry, anxiety and habitual fear.


For example, one of the Christian Desert Fathers, the monk Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 A.D.), thought a form of hesychasm (Greek: quiet) in which one comes to see the conditioned links between thoughts and emotions, and then, through meditation and prayer, finds a deep calm called apatheia. In apatheia the mind is integrated and purified of its naturally tumultuous activity, allowing one to simply "be" in god's presence, or to pray without distraction.


Some other Christian contemplatives would describe this emptying of the mind as a kind of ongoing detachment from chaotic thoughts. It's not that thinking that goes away - sometimes our thoughts may bring blessings or healings! - but that we experience an inward spaciousness so that we are not so caught up in our own thoughts and worries. When we have this kind of detachment, we are less likely to mistake our thoughts and opinions for our present reality.


The method by which one trains and purifies the mind were codified by Evagrius's student, St John Cassian (360-435) in his Conferences, and taken up by St Benedict, Eastern Orthodox theologians such as Symeon the New Theologian, the German friar Meister Eckhart, the anonymous author of the medieval Cloud of Unknowing, St john of the Cross and most famously, in the works of 20th century's Thomas Merton.


In Philippians (2:5), St Paul writes that Jesus "emptied himself" (Greek: kenosis), taking the form of a servant. Jesus's many acts of service and healing did not come from a mind that was thinking and analyzing about what to do or say, but rather from a mind that had emptied itself into God. In his "emptiness", God's infinite love could shine through Jesus's human form unencumbered. Through him, the invisible could become visible. In this way, the purified Christian mind is analogous to Tibetan Buddhist emptiness and to Zen's "no-thought-ness" (Jap. munen).


The medieval Dominican friar Meister Eckhart taught that detachment (emptying ourselves) from every self-centered affinity and fear is such an important spiritual practice that he, with tongue in cheek, put it above love. Even our ideas about God can lead us away from God, so we must walk lightly among them too.


This discipline requires effort and love, a careful cultivation of the spiritual life, and a watchful, honest, active oversight of all one's mental attitudes toward things and people. One must learn an inner solitude, wherever of with whomsoever he may be. Trusting in God's invisible presence one's mind comes to a still point of presence he called Gelassenheit, a complete letting-be.


From the Desert Fathers and from the Greek philosophers before them, Eckhart inherited the insight that our eyes must be without any colour in order to be able to register all colours. Dwelling in this detachment from our personal ideas about reality, we come to a consciousness that St Paul described when he declared, "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Christ has colourless eyes. We too can have the "empty" or "detached" mind and heart of Christ that sees all colours and registers all suffering and joy. Eckhart describes the Christ-mind's way of knowing as "daybreak knowledge" in which all things are perceived without distinction as coming forth from, and going to, the light of God.


Similarly, in the 16th century, St John of the Cross counsels that we Christians must also occasionally enter a dark night of the senses and soul, emptying ourselves of our self-centered preferences and ideas about God and everything else. We must become inwardly detached in an ambience of love that continuously connects us to others and to creation. Our contemplative tradition tell us that when we open ourselves to the Divine movement within, the Holy Spirit will help us do this work. We do the work of creating a space within us for God, and then trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work in us: as we flow out of ourselves, the Holy Spirit flows in.


St John of the Cross tells us that this emptying is a kind of "darkening" whereby we become naked before God and with God. Paradoxically, it is a darkening that brings Light. In this dark night of the mind the invisible God of love transforms us, freeing us from our cocoons of fear, anxiety and blame.


St Ignatius of Loyola, called this Christian practice Indiferencia or "holy indifference". In this view, one stops trying to control God. One trains one's mind to seek God in all things evenly, to have no personal preference for where God will show up.


Christian Blessings for Lovingkindness Practice

Numbers 6:24-26

"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace."


Psalm 121:7-8

"The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."


Romans 15:33

"The God of peace be with you all. Amen."


1 Corinthians 1:3

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."


Galatians 6:18

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, sisters and brothers. Amen."


*Check back next week for part 10

* Artwork by Michael Parkes


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