What is


Mindfulness is "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 

To be mindful is to be aware:  observing what is happening right now in the changing flow of experience.  It is to be open: allowing what is happening right now simply to be, and to observe it without judgment.  It is to be kind: responding compassionately to whatever arises before one’s attention. 

To this secular definition, Mindful Christianity adds a question:  who or what is doing the observing in meditation or prayer?  It is not the ego, not the body, not the personality: all these are observable in mindfulness practice.  Mindful Christianity recognizes that the inner observer is God - the transpersonal Self at the heart of the cosmos.  This awareness is “contemplatio” - the goal-state of mystical spirituality throughout the history of the faith.

VIDEO with Jim Burklo on Mindful Christianity


"Mire que le mira..."

"Know that you are known..."

St. Teresa of Avila

What Is Mindfulness?  A Short Course

He said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV)

First week: Enter Elijah's cave, metaphorically, and get into a comfortable physical position and for 20 or more minutes daily, be mindful of your body.  What bodily sensations do you experience in the moment?  What emotions are associated with these sensations? How do these emotions affect your breathing, as well?  

Are you experiencing pain?  What is the nature of it, the exact location from which it radiates?  Remember: suffering equals pain times resistance.  So drop the resistance and observe it carefully.  Stay open to it, surround it with loving attention, and gently abandon ideas or opinions about it.  Mindful prayer changes the meaning of our pain. It releases us from identifying ourselves with it.  It gives us a detachment from it that relieves our suffering.

Something that can help with this practice is "progressive muscle relaxation".  Tighten and then relax your body's muscles, one group of muscles at a time, being mindful of each of the sensations that result.

As part of your practice, try "urge surfing".  When you feel an urge to do to take an action or solve a problem, explore it by paying attention to it.  Let the urge be.  Delay acting on it long enough to fully experience it.  Where and how does the urge manifest in the body?  What emotions go with it?  What does this urge feel like?  Ride it out for a while.  See what happens!

Second week:  For twenty minutes a day, focus especially on emotions that may arise, and on the ways they manifest in your body and breath.  We have emotions all the time.  This discipline involves watching them.  When one arises, observe it with "high-resolution perception", as Chade-Meng Tan (Google's Chief Happiness Officer) describes it in his introduction to mindfulness practice, "Search Inside Yourself". Observe the emotion, and its effects on the body, with openness and warmth.  Let it play out naturally and then let it pass in its own time.  

Here's a mnemonic created by mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald to describe the essentials of the practice -  RAIN:  Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-identify.  Non-identifying means moving from "I am sad" to "I feel sadness".  How long does it take for you to move from sensing an emotion to observing it in a conscious way, thus recognizing its distinction from your core identity?  For example, you become conscious that you are anxious.  In that moment, can you look back and recall when the emotion of anxiety actually began - and how that anxiety manifested in your body?  In the gap of time between experiencing an emotion and becoming consciously aware of it, suffering and confusion multiply.  One of the fruits of mindfulness practice is shortening this time gap, giving us much more control over the way we respond to our emotions.  “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” said St. Paul (Ephesians 4:26).  

Third week:  For twenty minutes daily, in silent mindfulness meditation, turn your attention to someone you love very much, aim love toward that person, and savor and investigate the experience of it.  How does it feel?  Where does the love reside in the body, how does it affect your breathing, how does it express itself emotionally? Then turn your attention to a person you don't know well at all, and direct love toward that person, and investigate the experience.  Then turn it toward the whole human race, the whole planet, and do the same.  Then turn it toward yourself, and do the same.  That's the hard part, for most of us!  We're so much easier on others than we are on ourselves.  But learning the discipline of deep self-compassion also turns open the tap of love for others.  The biblical Greek word for this kind of love is “agape”.  Mindfulness is agape love.

Fourth week:  For twenty minutes daily, focus on your thoughts.  What are the colors, textures, tones, and qualities of your thoughts?  Which ones are "sticky" and which ones pass quickly?  What form do they take?  Are they voices? Are they images?  What emotions are associated with them?  Where do these emotions reside in your body?  

Thoughts spin around problems we are anxious to fix.  This can pose a challenge in mindfulness practice, as we lose our attention to the problem by becoming absorbed in problem-solving, which leads to the experience of getting "stuck".  I cherish an old, wise book:  “How to Solve It” by George Polya.  Polya was a celebrated mathematician who wrote the book to help improve math education.  But it generalizes as a source of wisdom for many situations.  It's a contemplative approach to the study of mathematics.  In his book, he repeated this phrase:  "Look at the unknown!"  This concentration on the problem itself, rather than on solving it, has the paradoxical effect of opening up a fresh awareness of the peripheral realm around the problem, in which solutions may be found.   When you get stuck in your thoughts, go back to Polya's mantra and "look at the unknown".  Let yourself be awestruck by it.  Enjoy the unknown!  Isn't that the essence of awe itself – being absorbed with appreciative attention by something that is beyond your mind's ability to grasp?  Contemplate the problem itself with loving, patient focus, and gently let the solution emerge in its own time.

Richard of St. Victor understood this practice, as a teacher of monks in the 12th century:  “Thinking always passes from one thing to another by a wandering motion; meditation endeavors perseveringly with regard to some one thing; contemplation diffuses itself to innumerable things under one ray of vision.”      Spiritual practice moves between and among these forms of attention.  One-pointed focus yields to a wide peripheral vision, a sense of the wholeness and unity of all.

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” -- Jesus (Mark 4: 30-32)

By compassionately, carefully observing the smallest things, mere mustard seeds of thought or emotion or sensation, we are able to apprehend the bigger pictures of our lives.

At least in the context of mindfulness, wanting equals having.  To pay attention to our desire for progress in mindfulness is to have a taste of that progress.  As the anonymous author of the 14th century “Cloud of Unknowing” wrote: “The will needs only a brief fraction of a moment to move toward the object of its desire.”  “The aptitude for this work is one with the work; they are identical…. You possess it to the extent that you will and desire to possess it, no more and no less.”

Savor your desire for this progress, as its own experience in the moment.  Let it be a mustard seed that you can trust to grow, in it own time and on its own terms.  Mindfulness practice trains us to trust that our awareness of a problem or of a need for growth will activate our inner creativity and capacity for change.  We don't need to solve problems or fix things as we practice.  We learn to trust that solutions will arise from within, when the time is right.

Final assignment:  Mindfully attend to all that arises in your daily practice: bodily sensations, the rhythm of your breath, your emotions, your thoughts; directing love toward each of these experiences.   Stay open and accepting toward them, releasing them as they pass in their own time and on their own terms.   One way to do this briefly in everyday life is called the “STOP” method.  S = stop what you are doing for a moment.  T = take deep breaths : think “in” when taking in breath, think “out” when exhaling.  O = observe: what are you feeling and thinking right now?  Who is the one observing?  P = proceed with your day, doing it more mindfully.  Do this STOP routine three times during your workday, just a few minutes at a time, and take note of the results.

If you lose attention in mindfulness practice, pay attention to that. Everything and anything can be the focus of your attention - even the lack of focus!

As Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist Catholic monk, summarized, in prayer we discover what we already have.  You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there.  We already have everything, but we don't know it and we don't experience it.  Everything has been given to us in Christ.  All we need is to experience what we already possess.”