Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Time Has Come: The Blessing of Christian Mindfulness

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." -- Matthew 6:34  The Message

Continual stress is unfortunately a daily reality when you are any kind of  caregiver ... especially, the surveys show, the caregiver of a person with a severe mental illness. We want to follow Jesus' instructions, to not worry, but how?

Christian mindfulness is one of the best ways to "give your entire attention to what God is doing right now." In fact, the discipline of Christian mindfulness sees every activity in your life as an opportunity to meet God where you are. To do this, we must be "all there" in the moment. 

Most of what you read about mindfulness comes from a Buddhist slant. Indeed, some of the best techniques that I have learned have come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Zen Buddhist who has brought the practice to people under enormous stress and in terrible pain. It's important to understand that, while the techniques can be similar, Christian mindfulness has a different philosophical base and a different goal.

Simply said: The Buddhist techniques can be transferable to Christian mindfulness by adding the presence of God. Buddhists look at the moment. Christians look at the presence of God in the moment.

To get there, we must give up our fantasies in favor of living in reality. Like many people, I can tell you exactly how my life was supposed to work out.  In vivid detail. But daydreaming (or more accurately, brooding) about that blocks the ability to see God, who has decided that my life will work out somewhat differently than my plan. Instead, we live in the reality of the present while being loving to God and the people we find in our lives.

Therese of Lisieux, whose book "Autobiography of a Soul" has been an inspiration for me, got it. As I learned more about her, I've discovered that her father struggled with severe depression, so she knew what it's like to have mental health issues in the family. Yet her sole concern was to carry out the will of God as it was revealed to her second by second. It was her famous "Little Way," doing everything, no matter how small, with great love. She wrote: "I just keep concentrating on the present moment. I forget the past and preserve myself from worries about the future."

It is a pathway to a more peaceful, holier life. People, actions and events are the medium through which God comes. The given moment is the only place where you can meet God. Cultivating a strong spiritual life involves paying attention to the now. And doing the next right thing. One step at a time. One moment at a time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Day's Own Trouble and How to Deal With It

"Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." -- Matthew 6:34, Revised Standard translation

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."  -- The Message translation

- Jesus of Nazareth

Observing the suffering of someone you love with a mental illness is an extremely painful thing. The nature of the illness is that the symptoms come and go unpredictably. You never know what to expect.

You're likely to experience a wide range of emotions as well as a tendency to rummage through the past to see if you can figure out what went wrong ... and a dread of the future. Last night the telephone rang at 1:14 a.m. and I awoke in instant and escalating panic. This time, it was a wrong number.

Night can be rough. It is easy to wake up and spend hours on the "what ifs" and "if onlys."

What would Jesus say about this? He said we only need to worry about one day: this one.  It can be easier said than done. But it starts with the acceptance that trouble will come.

In a commencement address based on Matthew 6:34 and given at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in May 2009, the Rev. Dr. Robert Allen Hill told a group of soon-to-be-pastors that, much like caregivers of people with mental illness, they will see trouble.  And often. His rule: "Expect it. Accept it. Address it. Forget it."

Several classic Christian practices ... and I think of them as treats rather than disciplines ... can cultivate attentiveness and awareness of what God is actually doing in your day: recollection (meeting God inside yourself) and the practice of the presence of God. A third practice, Christian mindfulness, will be covered in the next blog post.

Recollection is the habit of "centering down" and becoming still.  The best description of it is in one of my favorite books, "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard J. Foster.

He describes an exercise called "Palms Up, Palms Down" in which you sit quietly with your palms down on your lap and offer God all the things that upset you, one by one.  Then put your palms up and ask to receive the graces you need: the serenity to accept the illness, the love to be a force for good in the person's life, the peace to trust God with the situation and on and on.  Then sit quietly for a moment and listen. Maybe you'll get an impression from God, and maybe not.

The practice of the presence of God is often associated with Brother Lawrence, a humble cook from a long-ago monastery who learned to spend every day, moment by moment, with God. Many people use cues, such as the ringing of a telephone or the passing of hours, such as 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., to remind themselves to focus for a moment on the presence of God with them.

Now is all we have. And it is also where God lives.  The people, actions and events of right now are the medium through which God comes. So whatever you are doing, focus on it and see God's presence. It's the only way to find inner peace.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yoga Benefits Patients with Schizophrenia

Believe it or not ... doing stuff this crazy may help people with schizophrenia.
My first yoga class was at Ohio State University ... sorry, The Ohio State University ... in September 1972. I took yoga for two quarters to help satisfy my dreaded phys ed requirement. I also had to take archery, which it turns out I didn't dread half enough. Yoga was a keeper, and I've practiced it as least once a week since, through thick and thin ... waistlines, I mean.

Now a new study has found that yoga, in combination with conventional treatment, seems to benefit patients with schizophrenia.

Researchers assigned 18 stable patients with schizophrenia to either a treatment that used yoga or a wait-list group. The patients' symptoms and quality of life were measured using Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale and the World Health Organization Quality of Life questionnaire before and after eight weeks of Downward-Facing Dogs, Cobras and relaxation exercises.

The patients who did yoga had significant improvements in paranoia, depression, general psychopathology and quality of life. New York-based psychiatrists are offering it now as part of treatment, I'm reading.   

I can completely see how this could work, although I'm not sure I could convince the person with schizophrenia in my life to try it. Music therapy also shown positive results, while hyponosis not so much.