This blog in particular is very personal to my experience, and based completely in my opinion developed by living that experience. Hopefully, it will at least be an interesting read for you, to consider a different point of view.
In 2015, Christian and I were in a wreck. He was totally fine, but I suffered from some pretty severe whiplash and back pain. My lawyer recommended that I try daily yoga to help relieve the pain over the years, having seen his wife go through something very similar when she was my age, and how much yoga helped her live pain free.
It was then that I began practicing yoga multiple times a week.
I knew that it was originally derived from Hinduism and was popular among Buddhists as well, but I also saw how much my pain lessened through the practice of stretching and reconnecting to my body; not to mention how helpful it was to my mental state to learn how to find calm in slow silence. As a follower of Jesus, the spiritual aspect of yoga never appealed to me, so I never included the chants or the suggested meditations in my practice; I just continued to stretch.
Fast-forward a few years, and I had begun including moments of mindfulness into my schedule once or twice a day. My stress level was high, and especially when I was having my year-and-a-half of medical horribleness, I ran to mindfulness as a place of respite and hope. Mindfulness, in case you aren’t familiar, is a practice in focused breathing patterns, where you teach your mind to, over time, become totally blank and empty of thought for minutes at a time. Some Hindu and Buddhist monks can resist the “monkey mind” (having your mind run away in thought) for up to and possibly more than 30 minutes at a time. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. There are studies on the brains of practicing monks proving that mindfulness can keep the brain young—by up to twenty years less than the age of the person. This made me look forward to my daily mindfulness in the name of brain health (something my doctors were worried I may not have, once they found brain damage in 2019, and worried it was MS).
One morning in my reading, I came across Philippians 4. It is a chapter that begins by explaining to an anxious, worried people how to find peace. Verse 8 reads this way: “...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
TL;DR: Through a few personal experiences of the strong spirituality connected and manifested through the practice of yoga and mindfulness, as well as comparing my new learnings with what I was reading in my Bible, I decided this: It is better for me to practice meditation than mindfulness. To meditate on good, peaceful things is better for my mental health than sitting with my mind totally blank. The reason I believe this is simple: To actively seek peacefulness is better for me than feeling nothing at all. Feeling nothing doesn’t make me peaceful, it makes me feel empty- mindfulness is, by definition, an act of emptying one’s mind. I didn’t need emptiness, I needed peace.
Whereas mindfulness teaches people to empty their minds to rid of anxiety, sitting in stillness with no brain activity (which, let me say, can sometimes be very relaxing), Christianity teaches the opposite. Paul (writer of Philippians) tells us to think, and to think of very specific things, when battling anxiety: thinking of good things, of things that are pure and just, and anything done in excellence. After having this passage of scripture brought to life for me in a new way, I began to exchange Hindu and Buddhist suggestion for Christian suggestion in my daily moments of peace, and where I used to practice mindfulness, I began meditating on these things. To say that my mental health did not improve while practicing mindfulness would be a lie, which is why I believe so many of us run to the usage of it. Intentionally choosing not to focus on stressors can make a huge impact on the health of your mental and emotional state, causing over-all physical health to also better. However, when I stopped mindfulness and began meditating on the items listed in Philippians, not only did I lessen my stress, I also felt peace. The result wasn’t one of emptiness which I had previously mistaken for peacefulness, but actual, kind peace. Peace is not the absence of stress, it’s the presence of peace—just as a healthy relationship isn’t the absence of abuse, it’s the presence of active mutual love and forward movement into health with one another. The absence of stress is no emotion, and to have peace, peace must be added beyond that.
Beyond this, I continue to stretch. I don’t so much practice actual yoga anymore, but I have taken what I learned from it to apply in my daily stretching. I still use breathing patterns, light candles, use essential oils to relax, and create a calm atmosphere. I still try to focus on how my body feels and what it’s telling me, but I include meditation on scripture.
It is so common as Americans to pick up whatever we think is beneficial from different religions and cultures to apply into our own lives for their betterment, and that’s what we’ve done with Yoga and mindfulness. In this same way, regardless of your religion (but especially so if you are a Christian), if you are seeking peace and trying to fight anxiety, worries and stress, I absolutely suggest that you give Christian meditation a try. I hope you find in it the happiness it has restored in me. Goodness and truth can be found in so many different places, but the Bible (of course, I’m biased) is filled with so much hope and help. Empty your mind of stress, but then fill it with peace and joy.
This past week, my husband and I took a vacation (something we’re planning to do more often, as this was our first in two years), and it was a much needed respite. I’ve added some photos below of things I believe are good, pure, and lovely.