Have you ever experienced talking with someone — at a party, on the street or some other busy place — and felt that they were completely attentive to you?
They hear every word you have said, not merely looking for a chance to jump in with their own thoughts and ideas.
They don’t scan the room behind you for someone better to talk to.
Have you ever worked with someone who can get so focused on their efforts that it seems no disturbance will pull them away?
They are not constantly checking emails or text messages.
They seem to take real interruptions in stride, taking the phone call, and then immediately returning to their task.
These are qualities of mindful people — people who are able to focus their attention, one-pointedly, on what is important at that moment.
They are aware of other thoughts and emotions that arise, but are able to let those go, so that they can stay focused on the present moment.
Mindfulness practice is often taught in a nonreligious context.
One can trace this development to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who adapted practices in Zen Buddhism to create a program of stress reduction based on mindfulness.
However, spiritual practices that develop mindfulness exist in many religions — from Hindu meditations on breath, to Christian Lectio Divina reflection on Scripture, to practices of the Jewish mystics.
This suggests that mindfulness can be an important part of spiritual development for people in any tradition.
Meditation is typically the cornerstone of any mindfulness practice. Many begin with a simple breathing meditation. Sitting comfortably, with your eyes closed or looking at the floor, you begin to pay attention to the air moving through your nose. As you inhale or exhale, you might silently say, “in,” “out.”
As your mind wanders, and it will, you simply notice that, and without judgment, bring it back to the breath. Even a few minutes of this practice can help you become calm and centered for the day.
In addition to mindfulness meditation, here are some simple mindfulness techniques to try.
Try silently repeating a Scripture phrase or a sacred word over and over in your mind. (This is the basic idea of Centering Prayer).
Whenever you encounter an interruption such as a red traffic light, silently recite this, from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”
When you are ready to start an activity, take a moment for a simple breathing practice. Inhale on a count to three, hold the breath for three, and exhale for three. Repeat this three times.
Before going to sleep at night, think of three good things that happened that day. Try to bring the emotion surrounding these things into your awareness.
There are many books, websites, and local classes available to help you explore mindfulness meditation and techniques, as part of your own spiritual practice.
I’m convinced mindfulness is an important part of leading a spiritually grounded life.
The Rev. Matt Alspaugh is pastor of Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.