Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian
“Be here now.”
That phrase — meaning being in the present moment, not preoccupied with things that have happened in the past or may happen in the future — according to Mike Ferry, can have a big impact on one’s life.
Ferry believes practicing Christian Mindfulness can help just about anyone to “be here now.”
“Imagine your brain as a computer,” Ferry said during a Sunday, March 3, presentation at his home parish, St. Mary, Richmond. “So many of us have so many files and windows open. If you have too many, the computer is going to crash. Mindfulness is a way to click the ‘X’ on some windows open in your mental computer so you can slow down, be quiet, be still and get more out of life.”
A sixth-grade history teacher at Collegiate, a private secular school in Richmond, he first learned about Mindfulness while attending an education conference in San Francisco. He researched the concept and learned that Mindfulness has been medically proven to have a positive impact on heart health, mental health, the immune system, risk of cancer, memory, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Ferry said that while medical and technological breakthroughs have increased, so have rates of anxiety and depression.
“Mindfulness uses breath, body, senses and thoughts to reduce stress and find stillness so we can enjoy the present,” he said, adding that people can help bring about their own happiness.
Ferry noted that since God is the only one who can bring people true peace, adding a Christian component to Mindfulness is vital.
“I’m convinced that God wants us to be happy,” said Ferry. He added that people must do their part to attain that happiness, ridding themselves of any hatred, bitterness and sadness that weighs upon them.
Instead, Ferry said people should focus on Christian values such as forgiveness and gratitude — values Christ preached and practiced.
Ferry explained that Christian Mindfulness “is all about creating stillness that allows one to hear the quiet, small voice of God. It’s a way to grow in your faith while improving emotional and physical health.”
He said it required mental conditioning: separating one’s thoughts from emotions and learning not to dwell on them.
“Our brains are wired to play tricks on us. Negative thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t necessarily reflect reality. So much of our suffering comes from these unwelcome thoughts constantly invading our brain,” he said. “Mindfulness is training yourself to realize that you don’t need to dwell on these thoughts. They are not reality.”
The author of “Teaching Happiness and Innovation,” Ferry said while it may be difficult at first to find quiet amid chaos, it will eventually become easier the more it’s practiced —like playing the piano or shooting free throws in basketball.
One method of Christian Mindfulness he demonstrated requires concentrating on focused breathing — inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. While breathing, one exhales longer than inhaling.
If sitting, one sits straight with the spine against the chair. A simple prayer, like “Jesus, Lord Jesus,” is repeated. Over time, he said, it will become as natural as breathing and can be done while drinking a cup of coffee, walking or simply pausing at the door on the way out.
Repeating short prayers to create Mindfulness and a stronger connection to God, Ferry said, has been practiced for centuries in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Taoism, among others. An example of this is Buddhist monks chanting “om”; another is reciting the rosary.
Ferry noted that Ignatian Spirituality, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is another example of Christian Mindfulness. In that exercise, one chooses a Gospel story and reads it slowly while imagining being present in the scene of the story, witnessing Christ in action. Through one’s imagination, he said, God will reveal himself.
Another Christian Mindfulness exercise highlighted by Ferry is “Lectio Divina,” of which Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “If the practice of Lectio Divina is promoted with efficacy, I am convinced it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church.”
Lectio Divina is a type of meditation that asks the participant to use focused breathing and silence while slowly reading a Gospel passage several times, pausing often to absorb the phrases. If a certain phrase of the passage resonates, Ferry said, one is to repeat that phrase several times as well.
Since he can’t openly advocate Christian Mindfulness where he teaches, Ferry has his students practice Mindfulness by emphasizing gratitude, something he said is lacking in adolescents.
“Our quality of life has never been better, but yet we’re not grateful for much of anything,” he said.
Ferry asks students to draw a picture or write down three things for which they are grateful, getting them into the habit of thinking about gratitude. As a middle school teacher, Ferry has a front row seat to see how our children interact with each other and themselves, and he’s concerned.
“The level of despair is tremendous,” he said, “If we can identify these habits of happiness and learn to be more mindful, we will be happier.”
Editor’s note: To learn more about Christian Mindfulness, email Mike Ferry at firstname.lastname@example.org.