Wellness and mindfulness: practical guidelines I have gleaned from Scripture

When most people think of wellness, they often think about health prevention, better nutrition, clarity of mind, increased energy, freedom from disease. Goop and other wellness practitioners offer products to enhance wellness as well as a framework for understanding how to care for our bodies and minds.

I grew up around family members who often sought wellness prevention instead of disease management approaches. As a Chinese American growing up, I drank ginseng and herbal soups to maintain health. I was taught that when I ate tendons and ligaments they would build up my body’s own connective tissue; cupping would reduce my po po’s (grandma’s) aching back, and acupuncture was more than de rigueur–it regulated menstruation cycles, and effectively addressed pain without heavy drugs.

Today, wellness practitioners abound. Spa experiences coupled with botanical skincare and herbal teas along with the latest healing practices–the best your money can buy–are marketed and sold.

This is all for the good, but there is more to wellness than fancy supplements and expensive experiences. Wellness as a philosophy assumes a mind-body connection that those of the spiritual persuasion already know. As a Christian who meditates and practices mindfulness, Scripture provides the tincture that produces healing. And, the Word is the infusion of health and wellness, both spiritually and cognitively.

How does the Word offer health and wellness, especially for Christians who are interested in this mind-body connection?

The Word is a grace-filled scripture that advocates moderation in all things, particularly in what we could consider vices. For instance, on drinking alcohol, the goal is not abstinence, but moderation. To be mindful of how much alcohol is consumed and to enjoy libations with the intent and purpose they serve, as part of an offering of harvest (Numbers 18:12), symbol of abundance and God’s blessing (Deut 7:13), as well as a celebratory experience (John 2:3). Excess drink and drunkenness always led to the worst of human depravity (Gen 9 & 19; Habakkuk 2:4-6; 15).

This is an easy one for me because of my Chinese genetics as I’m allergic to alcohol in general. However, I point to good friends and family members along with other cultures, who have a healthy approach to drinking alcohol for enjoying food and life, while mindfully checking in with themselves so they do not fall into the trap of excess.

For wellbeing, the commandment of keeping the Sabbath day holy (Ex 20:8) was to practice a period of rest and holiness. Keeping the Sabbath lends itself to the spiritual to move in our lives and others. Jesus moved and performed miracles on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12);  so we can expect the same if we are to be more Christ-like in our efforts in keeping the Sabbath. As we approach the Sabbath as a time of rest, we can find a restored soul and a practice of holiness in our lives that is often lacking.

A weekly Sabbath day, or a few hours even (if you find it difficult to set aside that time), can lead to greater integration of the spiritual in what may feel like a very secular week. For me, the Sabbath was a challenge I began through as a stressed-out college student, and have continued along with my husband, through job and family responsibilities,  and many other time-stressed challenges.  The Sabbath reminds me of my human limits and my dependence on God for not only time, but all things. The practice can be done, and the Sabbath allows me to find balance. I urge you to try it.

For health overall, nutrition and food choices that may be counter-cultural leads to wellness. Mindfully eating what is nourishing is a healthy choice that can lead to physical, mental, and emotional strength, even in the midst of stress. Daniel’s friends show us this principle of eating right when everyone around you seems to eat in way that is mindless (Daniel 1:14-16).

Some folks will want to choose vegetarianism, but that is not the point of the passage. You should choose a nutritional meal plan mindfully and intentionally. Even better if your choices go against our cultural norms of processed, packaged and convenient, which seem to satisfy the gods of our culture: convenience, hurry, and mindless waste.

These are only three of many guiding practices and principles that are sourced in the Word that mindfulness practitioners can find and apply to their lives. They aren’t the only ones, of course, and if none of these I’ve mentioned seem attractive to you or applicable to your life, there is no judgment here.

If you have other wellness practices, (again, going with the definition of disease prevention and wellbeing in life), then please share them by commenting below (appropriate, thoughtful and mindful responses only please).

 

 

 

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My mindfulness “plan”

This blog post title is rather deceptive as the core of a mindfulness practice is the absence of making direct, linear goals when being mindful. True mindfulness is not about accomplishment or goal attainment. Rather, mindfulness practice is allowing the practice to take you to the spaces that you are unaware. As true in most things in life, the journey becomes more important than the end goal.

For instance, this summer I am challenged with large amounts of unstructured time. However, I have some real, hard and fast goals for myself this summer I need to prepare for my Fall class teaching schedule, I need to get some publications out, and I need to put a proposal together. In between, I have lots of plan to do some fun things with my 12 and 9 year old sons. We have some vacations planned, but I also have on my list: cooking with my sons, beach trips with friends, swimming, hiking/exploring, and celebrations with extended family.

I have tried to fit in my own wellness goals as well: continue mindfulness practice, vegetarian meals twice-a-week, visits to the doctor and dentist, assess nutritional goals, good skincare, some mild weight training, and yoga practice.

As a Christian mindfulness practitioner, I am aware of the competing theories of mindfulness: relax and let go, versus, let go and let God; do away with cravings versus living into what God may have me to do this summer; continue in the path towards enlightenment, versus, realize my human frailties as a sinner in need of a Savior (daily!)

What helps me settle into a summertime routine, where all my earthly and personal goals have the fighting chance to be accomplished, is to go into that quiet space where I can experience deep connectedness to God. God points me in the right direction, clarity of mind and purpose come in those silent moments of attention to Him, and noticing how my mind and body reacts to the Spirit’s call. Sometimes, His voice simply says, “you are good enough, just relax my child…let go”, it sometimes questions my motives, “are you doing all these things for my kingdom, or your futile one, my love?”, and, “stop striving, let me open those doors, assist you, trust in me for my yoke is easy and my burden light…”

Now, I have earthly responsibilities, don’t get me wrong, but mindfulness practice allows me to be more….well, just mindful about them. As I cook with my sons, I notice their little but growing hands–more mature in length and size than the last time we cooked together. I notice that my preparation for the Fall becomes about the students more than about my place in the classroom. I notice that I am shedding the selfish desires of these goals to a more outward focus.  The shift inside of my mind and Spirit is palpable.

Therefore, the obvious “plan” of mindfulness practice for me is to spend time in God’s gentle love and correction.  So my other plans this summer are open to discussion with Him–I give all plans up, I lay my burdens and my desires down at God’s feet and I sit in silence, in rest, and refreshment while on the journey. Tea&ToDo

Tea and resilience

The process of preparing tea leaves ready to be enjoyed is a lesson in resilience. Tea leaves are plucked, then dried out, then oxidized, where the chemical composition of the leaves fundamentally change for its full flavors to be realized and then enjoyed*.

The care, time, and technique used in each step of the transformation of the tea leaf can be lessons for us in building resilience, which is defined here as “mental toughness through pliability”. Mindfulness practice builds our resilience muscle–a strengthening and stretching of the mind and heart.

Mindfulness stretches our minds because the silence and stillness helps us tune into our thoughts. We can hear our own voice, our thoughts, and re-align ourselves with our values in the silence. As Christians, we transcend the chatter of that voice of ours to begin to resist the pulling and tugs of temptations. Temptations such as: self-glorification, self-centeredness, self-comfort, are all challenged by the rigorous training by our Lord Jesus’ generosity,”the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

The rigorous preparation of the tea leaves generously gives a full-bodied flavor to the hot water they bathe in.  When we resist in our minds our self-absorbed chatter: “what will happen to me?”, “how can I get that raise?”, “why am I so misunderstood?” we give way to focus and attention towards the outer. God’s promise of the first becoming last comes true. What was so worrisome becomes so blasé and out of touch with life’s reality. We are here for a short time, we are but dust, and therefore our attention should turn to the work of the kingdom.

Mindfulness therefore stretches our hearts towards others. In the quiet space where we can thoughtfully and wholeheartedly relinquish our self interest to the throne of God, our hearts inform our mind. Like the tea leaves’ oxidation, we change our composition. Outward we begin to think, then feel, then behave. Our bank balance gives way to more giving, our time is more focused on people and relationships, our emails are points of connection, our workplaces, productive with purpose.

Ideally of course, these are the ultimate rewards of mindfulness practice. The practice of course, is just that, a practice..it is a worthwhile time devoted and dedicated to build that muscle of resilience that will stand the test of the age and its agenda.

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*Reference: Adagio teas: Tea class, lesson 06. Retrieved from http://www.teaclass.com/lesson_0106.html

Resistance through mindful prayer

The news has been bleak; division in our country shows up on our social media site walls as well as in policies against immigration and inclusion that ramp up at a breakneck pace. Most of us are simply trying to live out our day-to-day lives, trying to extract meaning out of our conversations online and in person to help focus our concern.

Where do we put our hopes and trust? In whom do we trust? What does our future hold for us–all of us?

I’ve been meditating on prayers of resistance and finding solace in the voice of the prophets and saints who resisted oppression in similar as well as vastly different ways.

The main insight I want to share from those readings of those prayers is that prayer itself is resistance. Meditative and mindful prayers indeed are resistance; though it looks like you are doing nothing in mindfulness practice, a great deal is actually being accomplished.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, continual resistance is needed. Resistance to the patterns of this world: idolatry of money, of power, of even figureheads who claim to have it all figured out while their blind spots are apparent for all to see– resistance to shaming, blaming, and shoving out voices who differ greatly from one’s own is a path we can all find common ground.

We can resist all that by sitting in a quiet space. Connecting with God, with the person of Jesus, is resisting the values of this world. Being in His presence reminds us that we are all human, created in His image and for his purpose. Mindfulness practice builds capacity for a continual resistance that will sustain those on the frontline and those who support, and encourage those on the fronts.

Mindfulness practice reminds us that with God, all things are possible, so we do not turn away when setbacks happen. As they will most certainly happen. But so will progress.

Mindfulness practice transports us to the truth of reality that surpasses all understanding, which is that the victory is already won in the person of Jesus. That His death on the cross washed away our sins, individually and collectively. The arc of justice is His and is fair and is pure and good. We long for this.  Our Spirit groans in prayers of silence for what we cannot articulate.

When we enter into silence, we enter into His presence with a timeless God who has heard the callings from those who went before us for justice, the pleads for relief of suffering, the prayers of mercy for self and loved ones. He has heard those who carved the path of resistance that we each must individually and collectively decide to take, or not.

Disappointment and Triumph: how mindfulness can spur on the latter

2016 has been a year of triumphs and disappointments. The long political season and outcome of this year’s election has only heightened the anger, vitriol, and de-humanization that we experience in our online or offline communities. The division that is exposed in our shared humanity is the biggest disappointment. So is the violence and the lack of compassion for those who are fleeing violent regimes.

What to do when there is massive disappointment, disillusionment, or despair? Though there are no easy answers, I know deep down inside that the only sense of peace that is to come in 2017 needs to be something that I am actively a part to help create–to do my part in 2017.

Mindfulness, in all its benefits, should be a practice that ultimately leads to action for the sake of others, not just the self. Some criticize mindfulness practice as a self-centered, navel-gazing, and naive new age-y fad. This criticism is warranted as some of those who espouse mindfulness do so out of a sense of self-righteousness and shroud their own frailties under a veil of superior enlightenment.

As a Christian practicing mindfulness, the exact opposite should be true. The prophet Isaiah prophecies about the ONE who was to come, who ultimately came as a baby in a manger, whose family fled another violent regime to establish His kingdom on earth. The ONE came to proclaim the gospel for the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The goal for the Christian practicing mindfulness is to “taste and see” that the Lord is good and to find refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). From Him do we draw our strength to do good and proclaim freedom for the captives.

In 2017, let’s not forget those who are in captivity to the darkness of the world, who have not tasted and seen that God is good, and to use our mindfulness practice as a source of strength for the work–to draw from the well of God’s almighty goodness and to step into unknown territory.

May we step out in faith on behalf of those who are captive to the violence and captivity that our world’s powers succumb to over and over again. For our struggle is not in flesh and blood, but against the rulers…against the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). May we claim God’s Holy peace as followers in His triumph and His alone.

Let His triumph lead us in 2017 to good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Tasty tea

There is always something about a good cup of tea. Sweet, smooth, a rich bitterness balancing the sweet. The different notes of the tea leaves, the roasting process, the temperature of the boiled water –all the small but significant steps all add up to a lot of tastiness.

In mindfulness, there are also small but significant steps that help make your practice tasty and good. As humans, we are often creatures of habit, the consistency of where you sit and when you sit in mindful meditation can help create a sweet, smooth and rich time. I like to sit in two places: on the carpeted floor by my bed and then on the small couch in my office.

On stressful days I take time to sit in each place. Like roasting tea leaves, the first thoughts that bubble up in my mind are exposed wafting up and then like vapor, disappearing. I sit some more, allowing the simmering process to do its work. Its amazing what happens.

There may be a word that I know is from the divine. “Quiet”, “Together”, “Thank you” are themes of these times. I know that as I sit and create space for God to move, I am more connected with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. This time is tasty, blissful, peaceful.

The time flies by. My 10 or 15 minutes is up. I can attend to the day ahead. With scripture etched in my heart and mind and soul, with me being attuned to the presence of God (I know He is always there, I just need to remember!) the day ahead or the day’s end is full of flavor. Tasty tea.

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