An arresting image of our penchant for distractions is provided by one of the Buddhist Philosophical works. When thinking of how undisciplined the mind can be, this book said that our thoughts were like monkeys who swing from branch to branch: one second on this branch and suddenly swinging to an opposite branch that propels the simian athlete in a completely new direction.
If we are really honest, this is a very accurate image of what is going on in our minds. One thing leads to another and another and to something really different and then…Well, you get the picture! Monkeys in the mind is what we live with most days.
Yet the spiritual reality of our lives as well as the physical exists right in front of us. But we don’t see it since we are mesmerized by those monkeys! And the sad thing is that we live most of our lives in this jungle of thoughts all of which have little reality about it.
In Eastern Non-Christian Meditation, there is a practice that has become very popular here in the West. It is called ‘Mindfulness’. What it basically tries to do is calm the flight of the mind into the past or the future or to any host of other distracting paths and to concentrate on one’s breath. The breath is important in this form of meditation because we do it all the time and therefore it can be utilized for these purposes in every phase of our busy lives. It focuses our attention on the present moment and what is happening right now.
While it is a very promising technique to harness the mind to a single purpose, it is often connected with elements of eastern religions or no religion at all that make it problematic for the Christian. It is problematic because it is partial. In the Christian worldview, this experience is better called the Sacrament of the Present Moment. It has been dubbed as that a number of centuries ago by a Jesuit theologian named DeCausade. It is a fuller understanding for a Christian because it brings God into the process, which does not arise in Buddhist or Secular concerns. But we believe in God and as such we see God and His grace at the very center of the present moment. While we can be mindful with what we accomplish and attempt to steer our attention to more stable and fruitful pursuits, it also opens us to the realm of prayer and as such fits better theologically with our understanding of reality.
This attempt to harness attention and focus it into a God centered existence has been aptly called Centering Prayer. But what I am suggesting as a way of utilizing the time we have in our pandemic includes prayer but also everything we do. To be centered in God as we shop and clean and plan and work and play is to be unified and built on a real foundation. Watching as we build on this foundation gives us the joy of meaning and purpose that all reality is actually going somewhere and that life is not a circular round of repetition but a linear movement toward a destination made more wonderful by the growth that it inspires.
In other words, we tame those monkeys by bringing the peace of God like a fragrance or beautiful melody, consolidating our energies and being attentive to the God filled present moment.
In addition, by placing our attention in the present moment we confer needed importance to the things right in front of us, especially the people who are present to us. Psychologists tell us that, in our relationships with one another, attention equals love. When a parent is actually attentive to their child, the child feels how important they are. Sadly, when that attention is missing, the child, no matter how materially off they are, feels that they are worthless. This is a very important consequence of our effort to keep ourselves in the present moment. When in a conversation and are truly ‘there’ with someone, it means that they are important and that they should be listened to.
Many and important are the consequences of living in the present moment. But it is not easy to quiet those monkeys!