Religion

Attention to the here and now moves us closer to the holy

Elizabeth Greene, Idaho Statesman religion columnist
Elizabeth Greene, Idaho Statesman religion columnist Idaho Statesman

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. True, it seems like “mindfulness” is a bit of a buzzword these days. But I seem to be coming back around to it, after discovering the concept by name in seminary 30-plus years ago, striving with mixed results to practice it over the years, always hoping to keep in my heart why it is important.

My husband and I received for Christmas a great book called “Poetry of Presence: an Anthology of Mindfulness Poems,” and maybe that is what has called me back to better awareness. The editors of that book define mindfulness as “keeping our heads and hearts where our bodies are.” What a concept.

The book’s editors cite studies revealing that regular mindfulness practice reduces stress, promotes health and enhances relationships, among other things — but they make no explicit claims about religion or spirituality, no promises that we will reach enlightenment if we practice the here-and-now awareness of mindfulness.

I understand that they may want no part of appearing to make religious assurances. At the same time, the poems are spiritual, echoing religious thought and practice, even when totally secular. Many faith traditions encourage us to pay attention to right now, assuring us that we will be more centered — even closer to the holy — if we practice regular, matter-of-fact mindfulness.

Christians practice Centering Prayer, focusing on a text. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us:

The good news is that you are alive,

that the linden tree is still there.

Ancient Sufi poet Hafiz tells us:

Now is the time to know

That all you do is sacred.

As I write this, I have the good fortune to be in the middle of a trip to Australia, visiting beloved family and traveling around the country. It is easier to be mindful, I think, out of the usual setting, with people I see seldom, sights unseen in Boise. I have spent time with a rowdy 2 1/2-year-old great-grandson, last seen when he was but months old. I have thrilled to the sight of kangaroo families on the hills at dusk, spotted from the transcontinental Indian Pacific train. I have crouched down and peered happily at adorable little fuzzy fellows called quokkas, native to an island west of Australia’s western coast. Mindfulness comes easier in the face of exciting things we don’t experience often in our regular life.

But I don’t want to fall back into relative unawareness, after returning home. The poems in our new book are mostly about regular, mundane things. (Don’t miss “The Earthworm,” by my friend Lynn Ungar.) Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “When you wash the dishes, just wash the dishes.” In my own best experience, I am so much my better self when I remember to “check in” with my awareness as often as possible.

New Year’s resolutions are, of course, tricky, since we tend to forget them by February. But I’m going to resolve, anyway: to see and hear and feel and sense what is outside and inside me; to pay attention to the moment, cherishing what is going on here and now; to join Hafiz in knowing that all is sacred. To know that, because I am paying attention.

Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at uurev@pobox.com.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.

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