Can Mindfulness Training Help You Pray?

How can I focus better when I pray?

Try practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness has long been practiced by Christian contemplatives from their days in the desert caves to the monasteries of Europe to John Wesley’s holiness club. You can find mindfulness in just about every religion, no one can claim this practice exclusively, and it’s even back by solid science. It’s also becoming increasingly popular in non-religious settings.

Those who teach mindfulness training in elementary schools note that simple meditation practices help our brains settle down so that we can focus on the present moment and the tasks before us. Perhaps Christians make the mistake of associating “mindfulness” practices with “Eastern” religions (I won’t get into whether Christianity is actually an Eastern religion or not… Ha.). The truth is that mindfulness can prove extremely useful for prayer.

Let’s begin with a look at what researchers have to say:

First we have to practice things deliberately, and then what happens — just like learning to play the piano or something like that — we practice and then with enough practice it becomes a habit. And the habits become character traits after a while.”

The most common complaint he hears from teachers (who are choosing MindUP as their professional development) is that they don’t have time for an extra program, the curriculum is already too big and hard to cover. Weresch sympathizes with that argument, but tells them that in his own experience the time spent on the front end tremendously improved the quality of learning throughout the day…

Teachers noticed benefits within a few weeks of practicing mindfulness in the classroom:

The real shifts in school culture came when they started implementing the program school-wide. Teachers now start class in the morning with a few breaths to help students feel present. The middle school has breathing exercises after passing periods. Penley described how kindergarteners used to come into their classroom for free breakfast while their teacher was already directing them to look at what she’d written on the board. Students were having a hard time learning that way because they didn’t feel settled or safe.

Now, teachers greet kids at the door and play soft music with the lights down; they talk about the practices the whole school is working on at that moment. In this low key environment, the teacher is taking roll and checking in on students.

Our environments matter. What we think about matters. The emotions we are feeling need to be detected and acknowledged.

Mindfulness teaches us that we don’t have to be at the mercy of our thoughts and emotions. We can become aware of what we are thinking and feeling. We can take deep breaths and focus on the immediate moment rather than the future or the past.

Most importantly, in the context of prayer and contemplation, we become aware of our thoughts and emotions in order to pray with greater clarity. Paul writes about taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), and the simple practice of mindfulness helps us become aware of our thoughts and how they impact us. How else can we take thoughts captive if we don’t see them with complete clarity?

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For Reflection

Copy of Meditation April 20 2016


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