The best Christmas gift we can give our loved ones is being vaccinated during the pandemic. This is on top of the Christmas gifts most people are expecting to receive and to give their loved ones. Christmas is actually more than a festivity and a season of giving. For Christians, Christmas is also a time to be present with God. The presence of Christmas with mindfulness can be practiced too. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but Christianity also has a part to play in it.
I would like to share my reflection and understanding of how mindfulness is linked to religions such as Buddhism and Christianity. I hope to not offend religious sensitivities with my reflection and that readers take only what they find useful in this post. Also to note, I am only familiar with secular mindfulness and its roots in Buddhism. As for the practice of recollection in Christianity, I am only familiar with the works of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Liseux, and St. Albert the Great.
What is mindfulness?
In case you don’t already know, mindfulness is a practice of being aware of the present moment. What attracts us to practice mindfulness? Our society is built on restlessness – the mind’s constant search for meaning, change, and searching for the ultimate happiness. Yet no matter where we search, our minds are still not at ease. A simple case in point – most of us want wealth and fame so that we can finally be free from financial worries. Despite many people finding their way to wealth, they remain unhappy.
What is the point of having large material possession and dispensable wealth when one is unhappy? Why are we humans an unhappy lot despite building so much material comfort around us? The reason, as pointed out by the founder of mindfulness (the Buddha), is that we can only experience happiness in the present moment. In the human mind, however, happiness only exists in the future. We put an idea of a destination in our heads and think we will be happy when we arrive. But upon reaching our destination, it feels different from how we imagined it. And this urges us to search and imagine another future for happiness.
Presence in Buddhism
The Buddha taught mindfulness to anchor the mind to the now. This is because happiness can only be accessed here and now. If we look closely, we may realize if we can be happy in the present moment, it will continue to the next moment on and on and on.
Not everyone can be devoted to religion, so, the Buddha taught different ways for us to learn to be present. Devoted Buddhists can learn to be mindful of the Buddha’s qualities and use this as a way of recollecting the present. Christians on the other hand, recollect Jesus as a way to anchor their minds to the present moment. The word mindfulness came from the Pali word, “Sati”. Sati means to remember.
Those who are not devoted to any religion can learn to recollect the breath. The breath can only take place in the present moment, not in the past or the future. However, mindfulness is not just to anchor the mind to the present moment. When we train our minds this way, we can remember what is said and done a long time ago, as well as in the present. This way, we can learn to compare what we say and do and the feelings it brings us. We can learn to become wise by only saying and doing things that bring ease and happiness to our hearts. You can say this is a practical way to practice and cultivate virtues. If virtues seem difficult to practice, we can sum it up as loving ourselves as we love our neighbors.
Presence in Christianity
What part does Christianity have to play in mindfulness? The word “Sati” was translated to mindfulness by Thomas Rhys David. He was the son of a clergyman in Wales who was posted to Sri Lanka as a Magistrate in Galle in the 1890s. Rhys David became interested in the Pali Canon of early Buddhism and began its first translations into English. He found the Christian recollection of God to be similar to “Sati” in Buddhism and used the word mindfulness as a translation.
St. Albert the Great taught the recollection, or mindfulness of love since God is love. Or rather, God is not a thing or a person but a quality and an experience of love. St. Teresa of Avila and other Catholic saints recollected the Passion of Christ to bring their minds to the present moment. The act of recollection in Christianity does not have a secular alternative.
Practising presence of Christmas with mindfulness
How can we practice the presence of Christmas with mindfulness? Christmas day is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We can spend the season of Christmas meaningfully by recollecting the love taught by Christ. Perhaps we can reflect on quotes from Jesus such as loving ourselves as we would love our neighbors. How can we do that?
Most of the time, we react to what we like or dislike. If our neighbors (family, friends to strangers) do things we dislike, we find it hard to speak gently and nicely. When our minds are anchored in the present moment, we are less prone to remember the irritating traits of our neighbors. We learn to forgive and to forget and treat each moment afresh. Learning to renew each moment allows us to let go of unnecessary baggage. It also allows us to respond differently (as opposed to habitually) to those around us.
We can use mindfulness to discern our experiences. When our minds are clear and sharp, we learn to act in ways that bring us ease and happiness. This can only happen if we also can bring ease and happiness to those around us. This is how we can love ourselves as we do our neighbors. Mindfulness helps us not to react in ways that bring up unease in our hearts and in those we meet.