Scripture for Today
Take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.
Gluttony is ultimately about using something for the avoidance of feelings, particularly feelings of emptiness. Like envy, it seeks fulfillment from things that cannot fulfill. The practice of mindfulness, or presence to what is before us in the moment, leads us out of fantasies and addictions, and into the reality of God’s presence with us.
So what does it mean to practice mindfulness?
Well, I think the essence of mindfulness is intention. By that I mean that we pause a moment before acting to observe the situation, notice feelings, thoughts, judgments that might arise, and remind ourselves that we have choices about how to – or even whether to – respond. Mindfulness practice is the opposite of reactive response, in other words, a way of hitting the Pause button for a moment. Doing that gets us out of our own way, so to speak. We have feelings, but we are not our feelings. We have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. We have behaviors, but we are not our behaviors. “But test everything; hold fast what is good,” says the letter to the Thessalonians. We have the capacity to make choices, or to “impose choice upon instinct,” as Rabbi Harold Kushner puts it.
The practice of mindfulness frees us from the tyranny of our habitual selves – the ways we’ve learned to cope, which may not really be workable anymore. And even if they are, it’s always good to take a moment and make sure that’s still true in any given situation. Mindfulness is about clearing space so our attention can be on what is actually before us now, rather than reacting to something out of emotions and thoughts that arise from the past. Another way to speak of it might be to think of it as putting on the mind of Christ – which is loving, generous, patient, always intent on the good, not carrying grudges or anxieties or arrogance.
So how to cultivate this? There are various ways of praying and meditating that can help us get into this habit. Centering Prayer is one way; various types of meditation, such as the Buddhist tonglen practice are others. I think it works best to pick one and stick with it, especially at first. It’s the habitual practice that is essential. That movement back to the centering word or the breath is the path from instinct to intention. The achievement of some state of calm or bliss is not the path. It’s important to beware of seeking after certain types of experiences or feelings, because that is also a kind of gluttony.
Learning to let thoughts, feelings, judgments go, to live in emptiness, and to leave room for the work of the Spirit within – this is mindfulness.
–Baya Clare CSJ