Make goal each day to 'live mindfully'

12/19/2006

Note: For Clarence Shannon, who always reminds our parish to live mindfully. 

It was Susan Jeffers, a psychologist and author, who first introduced me to the disciplines of “living mindfully” and “looking deeply.” These disciplines come at no better time of the year than the Christmas holidays, when we are blind with the mindlessness and insanity of the crowd at malls and other shopping centers pledging allegiance to our materialistic myth.  

At the risk of belittling the discipline of “living mindfully,” it really is nothing more than being aware of what’s going on inside yourself. For instance, if you are losing your mind at the mall, trying to figure what to buy mother or sister or brother, ask some questions:  

  • Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  • Do I do it because of cultural expectation or out of a sense of the joy of giving?
  • Is there something I could give that I already have without having to participate in this capitalistic insanity?
  • Would that kind of gift mean more than something bought at a store?  

These are questions, the answers to which lead us to the quest of living mindfully. And they should be asked, not just at Christmas, but all the days of our journey.  

I never learned how to practice this discipline better than at a silent retreat that I attend annually. Those four days comprise some of the grand moments of growth for me. It is a time when I become aware (mindful) of the movements and motivations of my life and the lives of others. I become fully present with myself, because there are no distractions, one of which is conversation. I begin what Gabriel Marcel, the French philosopher, called a creative fidelity with all of life. I am able to pay attention to those realities that I miss in the scurry of living in America. I am able to feel and think. It is a place where “I exist as I am/that is enough/if no other in the world be aware I sit content/and if each and all be aware I sit content.” (Walt Whitman)  

In my mindfulness while there, I keep a journal, as I have for near 30 years now. At the retreat, however, my entries are saturated with mindfulness: “I came here thinking it would be the lectures or the Eucharist or the other liturgies of the church taking place here would be the major things recorded in this journal. It has not been the case. The major things have been things I can hear anywhere: birds singing, a thunderstorm, hearing the gift of hot water shooting in torrents out of a shower (mindful many don’t have that luxury), hearing someone cough, or even more profound, hearing us breathe (a basic gift of life) during the silence of the Eucharist. Because of my acceleration in life, however, I have forgotten how to listen and be mindful. I have forgotten their awesomely gentle power to bless and heal. Sounds of my commonness; sounds I normally make but do not hear in the rush of my culture. These are the sounds that make my experience sacramental.”  

As you are in the rush and insanity of these particular days, try to “live mindfully” and “look deeply,” of which I will write about next.  

Blessed season to all of you! 

Massingill is an author, freelance columnist and pastor of the United Methodist Church of Richton. He is also the religion editor of “The Magnolia Gazette.”