Do You Mind? a book review

My own interest in mindfulness is spiritual. Sure, it has its roots in Buddhism and I am very much on the Jesus-y Christian end of the world religious spectrum, but as my spiritual director observed, “All prayer begins with something like mindfulness”— paying attention to yourself, your world, and God. So, I picked up Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary in the hopes that it could help me move past my own anxious feelings and my Spiritual ADHD.

mindyourlifecoverMeg Salter is a mindfulness coach and Integral Master Coach™ who explores how mindfulness can help each of us experience life more fully, be more present and have greater resilience. She tells the story of her own mindfulness journey, and shares stories of how others journeyed toward greater mindfulness, discusses its benefits. She also offers a “Unified Mindfulness System” composed of three attentive skills, three types of practices and a variety of practices, related to the three types (83). The three skills are (1) concentration, (2) sensory clarity and (3) equanimity (allowing experiences to come and go without a push and pull or trying to manipulate them). The three types of practices involve appreciating ourselves and our world, transcending our self and world and nurturing our positive selves and our world (95). Three chapters (chapters 7 to 9) describe a variety of practices as they relate to each of the practice types.

There are some super-duper benefits to mindfulness. When you begin to practice it, you are more alert, more resilient, less anxious, less stressed and you get a good night’s sleep because you have no insomnia. You even smell better. Okay, I made up that last one. People who practice mindfulness may still smell bad, but because of their non-judgmental stance toward themselves, they feel a lot better about it.

I appreciated this book. Mindfulness practices (e.g. cultivating awareness of our breath and body in sitting practice, or taking note on our internal experience throughout the day) easily maps upon a variety of Christian practices, even if this is not an explicitly Christian book (it isn’t explicitly anything, except integral spirituality™). I made several notes in the margins and flags some of these practices to try to press into later. Her sitting practice aims at about 10 minutes of intentional practice (which is more doable than the 20-25 other mindful authors tell you to aim for).  I also appreciate that Salter pulls out of her coaching arsenal an exercise of creating a ‘mindfulness topic statement’ to help clarify both our future hopes for mindfulness and our present discomfort (there is a worksheet in the book, to create one, three different times). I give this book three-and-a-half-stars ★★★½

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my fair and honest review.


Praying Myself Awake

I was reading this past week Jürgen Moltmann’s eschatological musings that are In the End—the Beginning (Fortress Press, 2004). He has a section where he describes what it means to Pray wakefully. Moltmann has this to say:

. . . that is only possible if we don’t pray mystically with closed eyes, but messianically, with eyes wide open for God’s future in the world. Christian faith is not blind trust. It is the wakeful expectation of God which draws in all our senses.  The early Christians prayed standing, looking up, with arms outstretched and eyes wide-open, ready to walk or to leap forward. We can see this from the pictures in the catacombs in Rome. Their posture reflects tense expectation, not quiet heart-searching. It says: we are living in God’s Advent. We are on the watch, in expectation of the One who is coming, and with tense attentiveness we are going to meet the coming God. (83-84).

This Moltmann quote begins, in typical Protestant fashion, taking a swipe at the mystics for promoting interior navel gazing instead of open-eyed and incarnational awareness of the world around them. I kind of get tired of that critique. Certainly some mystics, some of the time have evidenced a spirituality of privatized preoccupation and platonic idealism, though attention, expectation and a cultivated awareness of God and the world is also the prevue of  the mystics. However, I do appreciate Moltmann’s larger point, of praying wakefully and watchfully—looking for signs of Christ’s in-breaking Kingdom—a sort of hopeful awareness of God’s coming.

It is just the sort of reminder I need. As a pastor, I’ve preached about how the life of prayer primes our pump to see God at work in our lives. Praying expectantly for God to work in our situation, awakens our spiritual senses, allowing us to see the God who is always at work. Praying helps us take notice.  But I am mostly lousy at prayer.

I circled back to Moltmann in spiritual direction. I had been speaking to my director about feeling vocationally stuck, my longing to be rooted in place and my hunger for deeper community. I have been in my current city less than a year, and feel the creative tension of wanting to do something beautiful for God but not having a clear sense of what next steps look like.

My director suggested journaling (something I’ve done in the past but got away), and contemplative walking in the neighborhood. Neither practice is magical, but both practices involve slowing down and taking notice of what is happening in my life and the world around me. It is a movement away from my attempts at strategizing next steps to a spirituality of taking notice what is.

Implicit in this call to take notice, is cultivating an awareness of God’s Spirit and the things I am being invited into. I want to attend to this. So with Moltmann and the mystics, I’m going walking.

Tranquility for the Frenetic Soul: a book review

Life is hectic. We  are often over busy, internally wound-up and overextended. Just writing that last sentence stresses me out. Pastor David Henderson wrote an earlier book called Culture Shift (Baker Books, 1998) when evangelical Christians were still trying to be relevant to postmodernists. In Tranquility: Cultivating A Quiet Soul in a Busy WorldHenderson addresses the angst, stress, and our prevailing sense of 9780801003219never-having enough time.

Henderson’s book is divided into several sections. After a brief introduction which contrasts our parceled out time (chronos) with God’s time (kairos), Henderson retells the rich-young-ruler story (Mark 10:17-31), rechristened here as ‘the busy young ruler.’

Part one, Two Hand Fulls of Toil And Chasing After the Wind, is diagnostic. Henderson describes how our experience of time keeps us going at our frenetic pace, “Our culture breeds unceasing motion. There is always something else to do. We need, we want, we crave more time” (13).  He describes our crazy-busy existence and overbooked lives and explores how industrialization has changed our idea of time and what time matters (i.e. the authority given to our workplace). And yet below the surface we deal with an inner hurricane–the experience of being always connected but never getting away, overextended and anxious and on entertainment overload. Henderson proposes a tranquility solution: “Do what God wants you to do and trust him with the rest “(54).

The rest of the book unpacks his tranquility solution.  Where chronos has made us obsessed with time management and productivity, kairos opens up for us to encounter God (67). This doesn’t mean that we don’t manage our time, make the most of our time, take care not to waste our time, etc. It means that we cultivate an awareness of God and his priorities within our time. Part two, One Handful With Tranquility, divides into three subsections.  In chapters six through ten, the section ‘While there is time,’ Henderson helps us to cultivate mindfulness: to where God is at work in time,  to the trajectory of all time in God, our own mortality, and how to keep God our focal point.

In the next subsection, ‘Making the Most of Time,’ Henderson  points us to invest ourselves and time in things that matter. We live in the time between Christ’s comings and therefore ought to live in light of eternity and invest ourselves in Kingdom mission now. Secondly we ought to use our time to invest in relationships (which are inherently inefficient), especially in cultivating our prayer life with God. In the final subsection, “Trusting God with the Rest” describes the rhythms of rest and activity which ought to mark our lives. This includes times for silence and solitude, Sabbath, and daily rest.

This is a really good book. Henderson doesn’t talk about ‘communicating to the postmodern mindset’ as he did in Culture Shift, he practices the principles he laid out there. He describes our culture, and recaptures it with the biblical story and offers hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. He focuses on the experience of busyiness and proclaims a gospel of tranquility and mindfulness (two words borrowed directly from Buddhism and New Age Spiritualism  but here loaded with Christian content).

I appreciated his full-orbed description of time. He isn’t content to simply say stop being crazy busy. He acknowledges there are good reasons to be un-rested and over busy (new baby with sleepless nights, a personal crisis, caring for someone in need, etc) but he points us away from needlessly stuffing our schedule with activity for activity’s sake. Instead he  helps us to consider God’s purposes for our time and for us in time. T I give this four stars.

Note I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.