Today’s world is one of constant communication, always on electronic devices and social networking, a sound-bite society. There is this perceived need to be in constant touch with others. It creates that state of being which Steven Covey called the ‘thick of thin things.’ We build relationships that are a mile wide but an inch deep. The slogan of “Don’t just sit there, do something” needs to be reversed “Don’t just do something, sit there” – and reflect, discern, be mindful!
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention with presence and intentionality while having an attitude of openness, kindness, and curiosity. It is being conscious of the reality of things, especially in the present moment. It keeps events in realistic perspective. By having mindfulness in one’s day-to-day life, one maintains an alertness of one’s body and movements, feelings, thoughts and perceptions. While mindfulness is a ‘state of mind,’ awareness is the activity that supports being mindful. Awareness is the process of being conscious of what your senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing – are picking up from the world around you. Mindfulness decides what is noise and what is meaningful.
Being aware is a skill that can be learned. You might hear the expression “its second nature”, meaning it’s a skill that has been developed, not something that is instinctive. The more one practices, the more one becomes aware of their surroundings – nature, friendship, kindness, and little things. Awareness in hindsight is beneficial as awareness of what has transpired can strengthen awareness of what is happening or may come. As our world becomes more dynamic and complex with jobs, families, and other responsibilities; our level of awareness will be tested. If one does not build their capabilities to be aware, life can be more challenging, overwhelming and probably more expensive.
There is evidence demonstrating a link between being mindful and the ability to engage in divergent thinking and innovation. The more essential component is the attitude with which one pays attention. Having an open and curious attitude is also referred to as “beginner’s mind” which has the capacity to bring fresh eyes to a problem and engage in new perspectives to solve it. Many pioneering Fortune 100 companies such as Google, Cisco, P&G, Facebook, are integrating mindfulness training in the workplace to promote creativity and innovation.
Reflection is giving serious thought or consideration. It is what turns experience into insight. It is not experience that makes us better, but the insight we gained from the experience. Without insight, how many of us make the same mistakes again and again? There is a saying from Confucius, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
To “discern” is to reflect and consider the options, balance the advantages with disadvantages, and carefully examine the consequences. Discernment is the ability to judge well and make nuanced decisions. Considered a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom and judgement.
Do we take time to talk to God, pray, reflect or even sit quietly with nature? An inherent part of life is the responsibility to make difficult, challenging, and sometimes even painful decisions. To make important decisions often requires time, prayer, and discernment. Being aware of God in the present moment is a great comfort and inspiration. Our conscience is our awareness barometer. I read an analogy once that our conscience can serve like rumble strips do on a highway – God’s little nudges to keep us on the road. “The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.”- Madame de Stael, French Political Activist
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that we should be a vehicle for encountering the presence of God. The routine of everyday life is a thin veil through which God’s glory can burst forth unexpectedly at any moment – in the red sunset clouds splashed against a blue sky, in a child’s face transformed with the delight of discovery, in the beauty of a song or poem, and in the strength of a dying Christian’s trust in the resurrection. As Christians, such moments strengthen our faith. In them, God is not breaking in “from outside” but letting us see with new eyes what is already there.
Moses, self admittedly, was no one special and had no particular gifts. It was his awareness of God’s presence that awakened him to many wonderful things. Another fitting example from the Bible on awareness is Elijah. To him, God appeared in the whisper; not the earthquake nor the fire. I have had my own experience of ‘hearing the whisper’. I still vividly remember when within a week of my Dad passing away, I was looking in his garage for electrical tape. I had been looking for a while, getting a bit frustrated. So, I paused, relaxed and asked out loud – “Dad, where would the tape be?” and immediately I moved to open the drawer where it was.
Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” It is important to perceive and detect the spiritual elements of life. We are human beings, but we are also spiritual beings.