“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” –Romans 12:2
Mindfulness meditation is gaining momentum across the nation as research is consistently being released on the vast benefits of this practice. The rising recognition of its benefits has not only brought mindfulness to the cover of TIME magazine’s February 2014 edition, but also to public school and prison systems. In sync with the rise in research and parallel with one of Lubbock Christian University’s four key pillars, personal stewardship, LCU offers students a free mindfulness class twice a week led by a certified instructor.
Many cringe at the notion of “meditation” largely due to the lack of knowledge on what it is actually about. Meditation is often associated with Buddhism--chanting, hands in the air, full lotus. Few realize there are many different types of meditation, including Christian meditation. Mindfulness is not all there is to meditation, but meditation usually begins with mindfulness.
Certified meditation instructor and full time counselor at LCU’s Counseling Center, James Henson, gives the following definition for mindfulness: a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
“For many of us, we aren’t often in the driver’s seat of our own mind,” Henson explains. “Usually we are thinking about the past or the future. If we are in the present, we are constantly assessing and judging it.”
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of what is going on around you without judgment—sounds, feelings, pressure points. Rather than labeling something as negative or positive, in mindfulness you simply accept the moment just as it is. Much of the 10-20 minutes of formal practice consists of studying your breath, from the cold inhale to the warm exhale and the gap in-between. When a thought, emotion, distraction, or discomfort arises, rather than seeking to change it or follow it, those practicing are instructed to accept it, and let it come and go on its own.
For students at LCU, mindfulness involves simply sitting in a chair in a room, feet flat, hands resting comfortably, and eyes closed; Henson then guides students through the mindfulness exercises.
Henson sees mindfulness and intentionality as Christian values. The Bible teaches on the importance of our thoughts. Anxious thoughts often prevent us from taking opportunities and reaching out to others. Once we have cleared the clutter in our minds and find that quiet space, it becomes easier to feel and hear God’s leading.
Personal stewardship is commonly associated with physical health, however we are not just physical beings; we are mental and spiritual beings as well. Mindfulness is a tool to help exercise and maintain our mental and spiritual side. Rather than being on autopilot, mindfulness teaches us to take every thought captive. This can especially be beneficial for college students.
“College is stressful,” states Henson. “Students have pressure on how they perform. It’s a huge transition in their life. We aren’t taught that we are not our emotions or our thoughts. Meditation allows us to not only learn to be aware of these things, but to realize that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Nine years ago Henson realized he was living a destructive life and decided he needed to do something different. Henson liked the idea of meditation but at the beginning he couldn’t sit for more than thirty seconds.
“The idea of sitting and doing, what I thought at the time was nothing, freaked me out,” explains Henson. “I was so discontent with myself and who I was in my own mind that sitting with myself was terrifying for me.”
Henson recognized the power mindfulness could have in his life the day he quit smoking. He had tried to quit many times before only to panic and run to the store after a few days. One day he stood up in a panic to buy a pack of cigarettes and stopped himself before he could reach the door. Using mindfulness techniques, Henson asked himself where the “need for a cigarette” was coming from, mentally scanned his body, and couldn’t find the source. He realized it wasn’t a matter of being in need, he was just comparing his current situation with what it would be like to smoke. He then accepted the desire he was having and hasn’t smoked since.
“It became a personal part of my life,” says Henson. “I went through difficult times and mindfulness helped me make wise choices in those times. It helped me stay connected with God instead of getting locked up in my own ego and my own anger.”
When Henson became a counselor, he wondered how he could incorporate mindfulness into counseling only to discover it was already a big part of counseling. He decided to become a certified meditation instructor, and he now leads a class twice a week at LCU.
Henson has witnessed changes in the students he leads. He has seen those battling stress and anxiety develop a different relationship with the things that cause them distress. He has seen prayer lives change from a laundry list of requests to a more balanced, listening relationship with God. On the toughest cases, he has seen those struggling with drinking and drug-use step away and find freedom from the substances after mindfulness helped them realize they had control over their desires. Additional benefits of mindfulness include increased concentration, reduction of blood pressure, less reactivity, better sleep, better communication, and the list goes on.
No matter how big or small the battle, mindfulness is something that can benefit anyone. However, as simple as it sounds, it can be incredibly challenging. Mindfulness retrains your mind. Henson compares our minds to a three year old throwing a tantrum. Up to the point that you begin mindfulness, the three-year-old hasn’t had boundaries or rules. The rest of the household does whatever it can to keep the child calm. Once you establish healthy boundaries and rules, the kid will resist violently. Our minds do the same thing when we begin to move our focus to the present moment without judgment, but through mindfulness and meditation, we can simply sit with whatever arises during this process.
Mindfulness is a training and a discipline. Anytime we try to do something that helps us grow, it is a difficult process, and therefore Henson encourages those who are interested in mindfulness to seek professional guidance at first.
Those interested in practicing mindfulness can contact James Henson at james.henson@LCU.edu. The group meets every Monday and Thursday throughout the school year and every Monday throughout the summer.