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21 September 2012

50 Shades of Mindfulness

Are you feeling stressed? According to this week's news, there's a good chance the answer is 'yes', with stress levels up for all sorts of reasons.

On Monday, in The Guardian's G2, Dr Dillner answered the question, 'Should I reduce my stress levels?' The same day's Daily Telegraph outlined that holiday blues last eight days, with a separate article entitled 'End the nightmare of sleep loss' stating that one in three of us in Britain apparently suffer from sleep loss.

Stress in its various forms has become a ubiquitous part of our cultural conversation, along with the weather. Part of the solution, according to Dr Dillner, is mindfulness, which is defined as "living in the moment".

One of the interesting aspects of media-watching is that mindfulness is present everywhere as a solution to the problems we face in dealing with the stresses of life. You might be recommended mindfulness at work as a way of dealing with stress. If you go to your doctor, mindfulness could be recommended for depression. It is being used to combat loneliness in the elderly, in treating Alzheimer's disease and even to help athletes and musicians perform better. Mindfulness is being used to enhance relationships, and to enable people to be better parents.

Between 30 and 40 peer-review papers are published each month on the benefits of mindfulness. It has been endorsed by the Mental Health Foundation and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression.

Mindfulness itself is cultivated through mindfulness meditation or mindful awareness practices, many of which have roots in Buddhism. However, Christian contemplative practices also lead to mindfulness.

By becoming aware of mindfulness within our culture, and practicing Christian contemplative practices, we can talk to people about the psychological health benefits of meditating on Scripture, of being still, of practicing present moment awareness. As Jesus put it: "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow" (Matthew 6:34). We can offer people a way out of stress through contemplative spiritual practices.

The other dimension of this contemplative evangelism is that people often become aware of a loving and compassionate presence that is Other, the presence of God – a dimension missing from secular practices.

There are truly 50 shades of mindfulness and Christianity has something unique to offer in this area. This is also true in the area of apologetics – not just in the area of psychological and spiritual health – and in developing an awareness of the presence of God.

Christians need to develop a theology and practice of mindfulness, and to engage respectfully and intelligently with the growing body of scientific research which endorses mindfulness. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist in the US, calls this 'neurotheology.'

Our culture is in the middle of a paradigm shift embracing mindfulness and related concepts. It is good news for the church if we can rediscover our ancient roots as contemplative evangelists.

And, by the way, did I mention that mindfulness can help with insomnia?

Rev Shaun Lambert, Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church and the author of A Book of Sparks A Study in Christian MindFullness.

Photo Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Creative Commons.