8. My journey so far…
I was brought up going to Sunday school and believing in God. I was confirmed at 14 and made a public declaration that I was a Christian, which was very meaningful and important to me. When I moved to college I read the Bible from beginning to end. This was a time of rapid growth in my faith due to finding a good church and vicar, a supportive Christian Union, inspiring Christian friends and a hunger to spend time with God each morning.
After leaving college I joined an organisation called Careforce to do a year of voluntary work. The work was to support a chapel on an estate with many social problems. This was the start of about ten years in what I would describe as a spiritual ‘no-mans land’. During my placement I was responsible for running many different of groups but felt increasingly numb to faith. Open minded conversations with people were leaving me confused and I became more aware of the world’s suffering and angry with God for ‘kick-starting’ creation. I also began to question the teachings of the conservative evangelical church in which I had been brought up.
During the summer of 2011 I heard a talk at Greenbelt Festival which was a turning point for me. It talked about four common stages of faith. The speaker, Brian McClaryn, talked about a stage beyond what he called ‘Perplexity’ which he called ‘Harmony’ where people move on in their faith with whatever they still believed and allow the rest to be a mystery. I walked out of that talk with a new lease of life.
Later that year we moved to Dorset and in the quiet of the village church I began to rediscover my faith. An important part of my new found faith was starting a group called Refresh where I met with other women to read and discuss the Bible.
So where does Mindfulness fit in to all of this?
As I have mentioned earlier, it was at Greenbelt Festival in 2015 that I had my first taste of mindfulness.
Having found myself in a tent where an unknown talk was taking place I found myself quickly drawn in to what the speaker was saying. He was talking about mindfulness drop-in sessions which he was running in London at lunch times for stressed out city workers. Then he led a short meditation where I had to visualise someone I didn’t know very well like the postman and say a “blessing” over him. Then he started talking about wellbeing in the church. As his talk progressed I had a really strong feeling that I had come across something of great importance.
Back in Dorset I booked on to a mindfulness course and became deeply interested in how it relates to my own faith.
Faith has always contributed to my own well being in so many ways but I have not always seen the advice contained in the Bible taught as clearly as it is in mindfulness. Sometimes I have failed to see what the Bible is saying and sometimes the church has emphasised one thing at the expense of another. An example of this is when the Church emphasises recognising “sin” in our lives without also emphasising that God loves us just as we are - sin and all. I used to envy my Buddhist housemate for her self-compassion and in some part, it has taken mindfulness to help me find it in my own faith.
I have also found the simplicity and silence of mindfulness really liberating. My own devotional times were normally filled with feeling that I should be either talking to God or reading the Bible. Mindfulness has quietened my mind and made me feel more like praying, but not in the way I had been, with a rushed list of problems and requests, but with an increased desire to sit silently in God’s presence.
Top 5 things which mindfulness helps me with:
Realising the power of silence, both for mental health and my faith.
Being more gentle and understanding towards myself.
Being more rational about, and less effected, by other people’s negative behaviour.
Appreciating the present moment.
Dealing with with night time anxiety and struggling to sleep.
Top 5 things which my Christian faith brings to me:
The example and teaching of Jesus who demonstrated how to live a life of love and compassion.
A framework within which to live which includes a concept of where I have come from, why I am here and the continuation of life after death.
A belief that there is something/someone who hears me, cares and answers when I pray.
A strong sense of the value and equality of every human being.
Being part of a large extended family (the Christian community)