Mindfulness is different than prayer. Many aspects of the practices overlap, but there is one fundamental difference. Some Christians embrace it, some Christians are freaked out about it. Some non-Christians don’t realize how truly close they are to wisdom when they do practice mindfulness.
This practice of quieting our thoughts to become aware of and discipline our inner thoughts stems from eastern religions, and is now becoming more widely used in the disciplines of psychology and education. Mindfulness is a slowing down of thought and paying attention to your feelings. It is being hyper-aware of the present. It is giving yourself permission to accept and feel the emotion that surfaces when you become aware of what’s inside. All of these things are needed for a healthy brain. We need to slow down. We need to breathe. We need to pay deep attention to what emotions are inside. We need to enable our brains to integrate memories and file emotion away as ‘dealt with’ properly. We need to cultivate this metacognitive thinking about thinking to be whole individuals.
Mindfulness is a great way to bring yourself to health and wholeness, but it lacks in a way that Plato illuminates in The Republic. (He was definitely not talking specifically about mindfulness and prayer, but truth is timeless and multi-faceted in meaning.) It is a difference between ears to hear what your heart is saying and eyes to see a situation in the fullness of truth.
Plato established a concise difference between ears and eyes. Ears do not need a tertiary nature in order to hear; they just need the sound and the ear itself. Mindfulness.
Eyes, however, will not function without a third nature. There can be an eye and an object in front of the eye, but that does not guarantee seeing. In order for the eye to perceive the object before it there must also be light. “Light… makes the eye to see perfectly and the visible to appear…” Prayer.
The act of mindfulness alone is insufficient to receive wisdom and step beyond a problem. The eye of the soul cannot see things perfectly in truth without the property of Light shining on it. “And the soul is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands is radiant with intelligence…” After stilling yourself and getting to the point of quiet listening, mindfulness can only reach Self, whereas prayer reaches Someone infinitely wiser and knowing than any one Self can be.
Mindfulness lacks the acute power to change us or impart wisdom. Feelings, though both important and real, are not always accurate. The perception of what you feel is always tainted by your hurt, perspective and experiences. Mindfulness lacks the power to change our internal and external realities. It gives the ability to reactively process what is happening in a healthy way, but it offers no proactive hope or capacity for circumstance to be different.
It is when we come to God in prayer, a mutual listening, that we see things properly, and our soul perceives and understands radiantly with intelligence. Through prayer we see God, self, others and circumstances illuminated through the Father of Lights who does not change as the shifting shadows of our culture does; prayer ignites true, timeless and infallible wisdom. This holy illumination and wisdom empowers our self to change, to create different situations and reactions entirely, rather than simply providing a way to process recurring situations and emotions.
It is good to slow down our thoughts and be quiet. It is good to listen to something other than the barrage of external voices. It is good to reflect on what we feel and why in the process of healing. Part of that is prayer as the shepherd king, David, practiced. It is the whole middle section of the bible.
But unless we tune in to a voice greater than our own, listening to Self becomes an amulet that will never fully elevate us above our trouble or change our being permanently. Let Light shine on your process to illuminate your problem in transformative wisdom.