Over the last decade there has been increasing research on the beneficial effects of mindfulness on one’s mental state. Marsha Linehan’s research with a Borderline Personality Disorder population probably serves as the catalyst for much of today’s work. Today, you can read about mindfulness as an intervention with depression, anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. Wikipedia describes mindfulness as: Mindfulness is the practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is applied to both bodily actions and the mind’s own thoughts and feelings. I would define mindfulness as one part cognitive control, one part attitude, one part observation, and one part meditation. While Buddhists have probably claimed mindfulness as an essential part of their religious practice, mindfulness is essential to Christianity.
When you think about it, we are constantly making assessments of what we feel, what we like, what we are experiencing. These judgments provide a constant feedback as to how we think about ourselves and our place in the world. But when we struggle with anxiety or depression, our feedback loops focus on certain kinds of “data” and overplay them. Then judgments become repetitions of what we already “know.” Example: my leg hurts today. I have a hard time focusing on other things because of the shooting pain. It is true that my leg hurts, but if I focus on other things (as well as the pain I notice) in an intentional way, my perception of pain is balanced with perceptions of other things around me. When we are able to practice this kind of attitude and cognitive control, we have the possibility of choosing, to some degree, what will be the center of our observations. And thus, mindfulness becomes a form of meditation.
Why does this work? It works because we take back control of our mind and have the possibility of thinking things other than our instant reactions. Is it any different from the Israelites hearing their history of being brought out of slavery while observing the difficulties of living in the desert and avoiding giving in to quick judgments that it would be better to go back to Egypt for the Leeks and Garlic?