October 20, 2009

Mindfulness Training

There's an article worth reading in the science page of the New York Times this morning, describing how mindfulness training helped some doctors reduce stress and avoid burning out.

Mindfulness is a virtue for our age. Surrounded as we are by a constant flow of messages and information, speech, images, and noise, it's very easy to also become chaotic and stressed within. In my work I encounter many people who live at the mercy of their thoughts and feelings, batted around emotionally and spiritually, believing--quite erroneously--that this is 'who they are.'

One of the gifts of mindfulness (or of any solid spiritual practice) is to help us to discern our thoughts and feelings as they arise. This way we can keep the ones that are good, healthy, and accurate to our experience, and work against those that are destructive and distorting. A good spiritual director can help us. For example, I once presented to a director some trouble I was having with another friar. My director said that perhaps I had not handled the situation "in the best way I could." Some minutes later, I responded, "So you think I handled this all wrong." Immediately my director jumped on my response, pointing out my distortion: he had described my response as imperfect, but after passing this response through some of my distorting thought patterns, I mirrored back a much more negative judgment.

Our bad habits of mind do these sorts of things to us all the time. I would even go so far as to say that much of everyday misery is caused by distorted patterns of thought. The most common are magical thinking, overly negative (or positive!) interpretations of events and persons that are not in accord with the data of experience, or, as they like to say in recovery circles, 'doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.'

In our world it is a great work to deliver oneself from external distraction and noise, but this is only the beginning of spirituality. The real work is to become free from the interior tyranny, of living at the mercy of our distorted patterns of thought and destructive emotional habits.

Check out the article here


ben in denver said...

This concept is so alien to my experience. I make an effort to be distracted from the drudgery of my work.

Brother Charles said...

"defensive distraction."

pennyante said...

Recently, I've been trying to be more aware of the present moment so yours was a timely blog article for me.

There are so many things going on in my life, that it is easy to become distracted. That is when even prayer is difficult.

Lately, my prayer begins: "Lord, you are present in this moment..." These few words help to center me as I pray. It actually makes a difference...