For mental health week in May, a reader of my blog requested that I wrote about christianity and mental health. I haven’t yet found the will to go there completely because giving my opinion about such a thing takes me to a place of vulnerability and discomfort that I’d rather avoid. I suppose I ought to practise what I preach and push into the discomfort. To ease myself in, here is a Radio 4 Thought for Today from back in March. Mindfulness can be confused as something that is completely separate from christianity but I don’t think it is, either…
‘More and more people today are finding some help through the practice of mindfulness.’ Rt Rev Lord Harries – 03/03/17
Good morning. The word of the week at Westminster has been “security”. The security of EU citizens living in this country and the security of British citizens living in mainland Europe and what is the best policy to give them assurance about their future homes and jobs. This is because having somewhere we can settle for the foreseeable future and a way of earning a living is fundamental to the peace of mind of all of us. Insecurity, as experienced by the homeless or jobless, and even more acutely by refugees, can only give rise to acute anxiety. So a prime moral obligation we have as a society is to try to give one another that security which those of us with a home and a job can too easily take for granted.
Yet, that having been said, there is a fundamental insecurity about human life itself that all of us have to face and learn to deal with. In short we worry. My mother was rather a worrier and too often I find myself distracted and thinking about how to manage an imaginary future. Jesus gave us some wonderful words to deal with this. He told us to look at the birds in the air-they don’t worry, to consider the lilies in the field-they don’t worry and even Solomon in all his splendour was not attired like one of these. “Set your minds on God’s kingdom and his justice and all the rest will come to you as well.” He said, and continued “ So do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow will look after itself.” He himself lived with that radical, total trust and a few other Christians, like St Francis of Assisi have done so as well, but most of us find it mighty hard.
However, more and more people today are finding some help through the practice of mindfulness: learning how to attend to what is before us now, being fully present in the present. In fact the good practices of secular mindfulness can also be found in the long tradition of Christian spirituality, and I am afraid the church is at fault for keeping them hidden for so long. One of its practitioners was the great philosopher of anxiety, Soren Kierkegaard. He said it was all very well birds not worrying about the future but we are different, we are conscious of time, we have a sense of eternity. He suggests that we should be like rowers in a boat, not looking over our shoulders at what is coming next but letting that sense of eternity plunge us more fully into the present moment. This he said, makes us contemporary with ourselves.
This practise of mindfulness, seeking to be fully alive in the present moment and trustful about what comes next, should not be thought of as a piece of self-indulgence. For if we are free of the little anxieties of daily life we are much more likely to be ready to help those whose insecurity is extreme.
A good place to start when feeling anxious is to literally look around you.
Be curious about what you see.
Visualise parking, or packing away your concerns about tomorrow.
Think grateful thoughts about today.