Sunday March 29 2020
Dear Chapel Members and Friends,
The present situation where we have to isolate ourselves to avoid infection is strangely conducive to the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is also a way of coping with the stress and anxiety of isolation.
In a recent interview Stephen Fry spoke wisely about our need now to redefine our sense of time. We can take more time to do everything, and do it in a more orderly and thoughtful fashion. We can allow time to take on a different dimension, a more generous dimension if you like.
To practice mindfulness meditation might take half an hour twice a day, but to conduct our daily lives in a mindful fashion is something that can be continuous. Mindfulness is not confined to meditation sessions, but can go on all the time throughout our daily activities.
Mindfulness means being fully aware of whatever we are experiencing or are involved in. It does not try to control our activities, just make us more attentive to them. It discourages thoughts about the past or the future or making judgements about them, and simply encourages awareness of the present moment. As a result, it can lead us to feel more relaxed about what we are doing, and feel increased contentment about it.
I have very briefly summarised ideas on mindfulness from Dr Tony Fletcher’s book Buddhism – How We Do It, and Tony summarises his own practice in part by saying;
It is moment by moment awareness
Alertness, not missing a thing
Watching events as they unfold.
There is a lot more in his very helpful book which will be of interest.
Are we engaged in important work, or on very mundane tasks? Mindfulness will apply to it all.
As you will have guessed, it is a very ancient practice, to be found in differing forms in different faiths around the world.
Here is a very familiar expression from our own tradition, by George Herbert (1593-1632):
Teach me my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee.
Whoever looks on glass
On it may stay his eye;
Or if it pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.
All may of thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which, with this tincture, “For thy sake,”
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with his clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
Shall we end with a short prayer taken from an Eighteenth-Century Missal?
“O God, whose gracious providence has particularly ordain’d the spirit of meekness to waft us safely through the turbulent sea of the world… vouchsafe, we beseech Thee, that the clear experience we every day make of our own weakness and vanity, may so dispose us for this precious virtue, that our minds may never be discompos’d with passion, nor our tongues break forth into violent expressions, but our temper may be always preserv’d calm and regular… Amen.”