My Reflections at the beginning of a New Year
I would like to state at the very outset that I believe that a new year is just a change of number on the calendar; nothing more… and so nothing to be superstitious about! Good things that happen or negative things you experience on the first day of the year cannot affect you or the year to come. In fact every day is a day made by the Lord, and every day is a good day, irrespective of how different groups in society decide to number them.
However, we like to use such opportunities like the beginning of a new year, to reflect on our journey of life and explore avenues for our growth and development. This year I suggest that we look at the beginning of this new calendar year as a good time to check our ‘mindfulness’.
Over the years we develop habits and work patterns, and then act out a set routine, as a result of which we could be doing things quite ‘mindlessly’. Take for instance the proverbial difference between a person who has ten years of experience and another who has one years experience ten times over! Or the situation wherein, if left idle on its own, our mind tends to wander into negativity and impulsiveness, rather than focus on the numerous blessings we simply take for granted. These would be significant indicators of whether we lack mindfulness in living.
On the other hand let me share some instances of a ‘mindful approach’: take for example the situation that “I don’t know how to sing”. I am sure many of you are glad that “I know that I don’t know to sing”! This awareness spares you the ordeal of me leading the singing in church blissfully unaware of my inability to sing. Similarly a person who is angry could mindfully express it in a polite conversational tone: “I am angry about this…” or “I am very disappointed with such behaviour…”; which is quite different from one who explodes without being aware of one’s feelings, shouting loudly “I am not angry, but…”
Mindfulness also involves:
a. Listening to the body. The human body is an absolutely amazing creation of God. The body always gives us signals, important messages which we mindlessly ignore and invite illness. Listening to the body would imply awareness of sensations in various parts of the body, learning to read the signals of discomfort (dis-ease), and take corrective action in time to avoid a catastrophic breakdown.
b. Looking for verbal as well as non-verbal feedback in our conversations and actions. Many times we are so caught up with what we want to say or do, that we impose our views, priorities and values on others with utter unawareness of how the recipient is feeling about it. Mindfulness is about cultivating an active feedback mechanism in our interactions with people.
c. It is about moving from ‘Reacting’ to ‘Responding’! Our reactions often arise from our unmet needs or unresolved issues, hence it is focussed on our needs or impulses. Response is focussed on addressing the other’s needs; it requires a conscious choice of not focussing on the words or the tone of voice of the other, but a compassionate reading ‘in-between the lines’ so as to heal the ‘root-causes’ and not react to the ‘symptoms’.
d. Training the mind to take a balanced view of our experiences – don’t discount the simple things of life and don’t magnify the issues we grapple with. Acquire a taste for the ordinary and remember to breathe deeply during the extra-ordinary. Let it be… and let life flow…
To conclude, I like to situate ‘Mindfulness’ as an exercise in God-consciousness. It is becoming aware of God’s presence and working every moment of our life. When St Paul says “Pray without ceasing”, he is obviously not asking us to recite prayers continuously, nor is he asking us to attend one devotional service after another. Our prayers and devotions, if not done out of routine but mindfully, create a disposition of prayerfulness which we carry with us all through the day. Hence, mindfulness implies prayerfulness, which will make every day a new day, every day a good day!
- Fr Mario Mendes