June 2017 Ministers Message
It seems like every month I spot a story in the news about how practicing mindfulness produces practical and objective benefits for our physical and emotional health. The word mindfulness has become a catch all term for various forms of meditation and contemplative practices that have been developed by spiritual traditions around the world going back 3000 years.
In fact, the word mindfulness is intended to lend a non-religious or secular facet to these ancient practices. There are still some more conservative folks who are afraid that meditation practice is a pagan ritual from Buddhist and Hindu traditions and therefore object to children learning about it in school. I once knew an evangelical Christian who insisted that when you practice meditation you are making it easier for "demons" to possess you!
The truth is that the practice of mindfulness has been successfully stripped of any religious or cultural baggage without losing any empirical effectiveness. In a sense, we have “westernized” it so that more people might benefit from the practice. In fact, it can actually help us to recognize and come to terms with our inner emotional demons that often run unchecked wreaking havoc in our lives.
The most striking example of how this happened was in 2014 with the publication of a book called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris who had previously been best known for his withering and relentless critiques of religion. I have followed and enjoyed his work over the years even though I have not always agreed with him.
He certainly raised a few eyebrows among his fellow atheists by his use of the word “spirituality” in the title and he frankly acknowledges that he is at a loss for any other way to describe what he is advocating. The liner notes offer a helpful explanation: “Throughout this book, Harris argues that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow, and that how we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the quality of our lives.”
He is talking about the intangible side of reality which is how I like to define spirituality. This includes the realm of our thoughts and the inner experience of the moment to moment unfolding of reality.
This development is the culmination of a process that started in 1979 when noted author Jon Kabat-Zinn started a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Since that time, the documented benefits of this practice have become too numerous to summarize in this brief article which is why we are going to devote more time to the subject on Sundays during June and July.
The practice of silent meditation has been unique to Unity from the beginning. The entire idea of this movement arose out of the experience of our co-founder Charles Fillmore as he practiced his own home grown version of mindfulness practice that he called “the silence.”
The good news is that there is no secret involved; the practice can be learned in 15 minutes. In addition, no special equipment or clothing is required. The only essential items are curiosity and a certain amount of discipline to actually do the practice for as little as 10 minutes per day. Try it, you will like it and positive results are guaranteed!