Guest Column – How Firm is YOUR Foundation?
by The Rev. Cricket Cooper
If I told you that there was a new drug available that had been proven to lower blood pressure, help you deal with chronic pain or disease, alleviate anxiety and depression, lower the incidence of heart disease, make you more resilient in the face of stress, improve your relationships, and help you break away from addiction, you would probably say it sounds too good to be true! Even if it were true, what would such a miracle drug cost? Does your insurance cover it? Will your doctor prescribe it?
Now, if I told you that this miracle was actually not a drug, but something you already owned… well, if that were the case, wouldn’t we all know about it?
And yet, this is the truth. That miracle is your foundation, the one solid thing underneath everything else in your life, your work, your ministry, your family. This miracle is the power of your breath, and the practice of mindfulness.
Yes, “Mindfulness” is a bit of a buzzword right now, but it is an ancient practice that demands nothing of you but your attention. It is not tied to a religious structure, to an adherence to some “mystical” teaching, or to a 1960s Transcendental Meditation mantra. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who brought this ancient practice into our modern experience, describes Mindfulness as the practice of paying attention, in the present moment, without judgment.
Can simply breathing and paying attention calm our hectic lives and bring us all the health benefits listed above, and more? Yes. It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit is often referred to as breath. From our Collect for Purity at the opening of the Eucharistic service: “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.”1 The in-spiration, the breathing in.
As a qualified MBSR teacher (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), I hear people say, “But my mind races! I could never sit still and meditate!” The greater your challenges, the more you have to gain from learning some mindful practices. I began my practice while I was undergoing chemotherapy, and it brought me a level of serenity that transformed a frightening time in my life into a deepening of my own gratitude and love for life.
Mindfulness has even been shown to help the brain stay healthier for longer, increasing brain density in the areas that show an increase in mood and a sense of well-being. The only real question is how soon can you start?
Please note: The practice of Mindfulness is being touted in many arenas. The evidence-based practice that has been proven to make the changes mentioned in this article is connected with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and other MBSR-related interventions, as taught through the Center for Mindfulness, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The Rev. Cricket Cooper was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1989 and has served eight parishes and six dioceses throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Last year, Church Publishing, Inc., published her cancer memoir, Chemo Pilgrim, in which she recounts travelling to monasteries during her chemotherapy seeking healing and peace. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Relief training is through the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School. She currently serves as rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield, MA.
1 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 355