“10 Keys to Happiness” – Awareness.
This is the fourth reflection on the ’10 keys to happiness” promoted by “Action for happiness”(AfH) – https://www.actionforhappiness.org. AfH have identified these as activities which promote mental health and wellbeing. In this series we are exploring how this psychologically and clinically well researched menu compares with a Biblical perspective.
This 4th reflection looks at awareness. The saying goes “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present”. Awareness or mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading expert, as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”.
It appears to have benefits for all ages; benefits emotionally, physically and spiritually; benefits at time of stress; helping with memory, attention, learning and creativity.
A simple mindfulness exercise is to sit for one minute, focusing on your breath. If your mind wanders bring it back. The problem is that we human beings tend to be “mind full rather than mindful”. Our thoughts wander. Have you ever gone into a different room to get something and forgotten what it was; or been on autopilot on a regular journey; or only half listened to a conversation – what did you say? More mindlessness than mindfulness.
So the intentional practise to nurture is taking time out to stop and become aware of yourself; to enjoy, notice and take care of the world around you; to be curious. The poster for this key is “There’s more to life when you stop and notice.”
When we look at Biblical and church tradition, the twin themes of mindfulness stand out – the emphasis on the present and the importance of what, as Christians, we call contemplation.
The phrase in the Lord’s prayer “give us this day our daily bread” intentionally brings us to a sense of the here and now. What is important is enough bread for today. It is entirely consistent with God’s provision of manna in the wilderness for the Israelites fleeing Egypt, being only enough for the day. Anyone trying to hoard for tomorrow, found the manna rotten. Jesus says “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today”. Matthew 6:34.
And in the gospel narrative when Jesus tells his parables, and teaches, here is someone who closely observes his surroundings. “Consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28) he says and he means take a close look at them, and their God given beauty.
And when we come to contemplation, Jesus is someone who regularly takes himself away to a quiet place, where he can engage with His Father. But this is a developed wisdom. As Elijah is confronted by the presence of God, it is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire but in “a sound of sheer silence”.(1 Kings 19:12). And the Psalmist advises “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46) I recently read a beautiful meditation on this phrase – “Being still and knowing are the same phenomenon, because when we are still like a mirror, a still lake, no ripples, then the whole firmament, the whole sky is reflected in the lake. The stars come down, and the moon, and the clouds – all are reflected in tremendous beauty in the lake. When our consciousness becomes a still mirror, a still lake, a silent reservoir of energy, God is reflected in it.”
And there is a growing move to engage with contemplative practise. Taking 5, 10, 20 minutes a day to be still before God, but in a mindful way. Like mindfulness, contemplative practise often starts with that focus on breathing. Jewish rabbis comment that the divine name in Hebrew YHWH cannot be pronounced, it can only be breathed – YH for the in breath and WH for the out breath. A repeated mantra can also help us focus, to stop our minds wandering – a word or phrase that stands out from Psalm or bible reading; or simply the word “God”!
So for a short period each day, let’s be aware- aware of the ever-abiding presence of God. It is no surprise to a Christian that awareness is a key to happiness. It is entirely consistent with the Biblical narrative.