A Bit About Brain Chemistry
Ever driven somewhere and realized upon arrival you don’t remember ‘driving’ there?
Enter. Thought Stream.
Like a river of ideas, a thought stream is a chemical response that takes place in our brain. When one thought is generated it brings along many in similar streams of ideas. Our thoughts get stuck together like glue, “train of thought” sound familiar?
You left the house with something on your mind. Yet at the parking spot those thoughts had completely morphed from those you had upon leaving. In glancing back however, you can see how they were all connected- one to another- like cars on a freight train.
The Doing Mode
Ever had a problem and tried to ‘think’ your way out of it: coming up with scenarios, various ‘versions’ of how this problem could play out? Our brains are hardwired to help us make sense of our reality. They create stories in order to generate meaning and try to solve problems. This is a feature of what is called ‘the doing mode’ of our minds.
Featured by Dynamic Catholic the book The Mindful Catholic Dr. Greg Bottaro cites research showing the interconnectedness between the doing mode of the mind, thought streams and emotional responses.
Subject to Christ
“Thoughts however,” he writes, “are mental events”: bringing to the light that every thought is NOT a form of truth (hello – Temptation!) Therefore as St. Paul reminds us, we are to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
Becoming mindfully aware of our thought streams and emotions gives us the opportunity to choose which thoughts we will listen to.
The Being Mode: Duty of the Present Moment
In understanding what Catholic mindfulness is and what it is not, immediate connections can be made to other spiritual traditions of the Church. One such tradition is that of Madonna House, founded by Catherine Doherty in Combermere, ON. In her spiritual writings Catherine discusses achieving sanctity through doing ‘the duty of the moment.’ This too is the cornerstone of Catholic Mindfulness as Dr. Bottaro writes we are “finding God one moment at a time.
Being grounded in the present moment is being aware of what is taking place around and inside of us (body, mind, spirit) and working to achieve the next right thing. This is called ‘the being mode.’ The being mode places us in the here and now where God rests. It alerts us to the physiological and emotional reactions we may be experiencing due to those thoughts for better or for worse. Are our thoughts fleeing to regrets of the past? Worries about the future? Are we besieged by current anxieties?
The Martha & Mary of Our Minds
When in the being mode we are in a state of self-awareness and noticing. Functioning in this place God’s grace can pour into our mental space (the stained glass windows of our perceptions) to discern what thought streams are worth our attention. With Christ regulating our thoughts we can be like Mary and “choose the greater part” and not let our Martha get carried away by ‘many things‘: on streams of thought leading to rapids and waterfalls. Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross is a stellar example of Catholic mindfulness.
Furthermore, the being mode can allow us to find joy in the simple blessings from Our Lord. We can choose contentment and creativity rather than contempt and criticism.
Beginner Points for Practicing Catholic Mindfulness
1. Food is a great starting point for mindful awareness. Try out this mindful eating exercise to work on intentionality and noticing. Suddenly you may find that one piece of chocolate (rather than the bar!) does the trick!
2. Aim to take ‘a sacramental pause’ throughout your day. Deep belly breaths help place yourself in the present moment. Then ask Our Lord to be with you taking scope of your mental landscape.
3. If you are caught up in chaotic thought streams have Christ sit with you. Gain strength from His example of turning towards His difficulties in the Garden of Gethsemane. Allow His grace flow to you so you can turn towards your challenges with courage and conscious awareness.
Make short, but regular intervals for prayer. The Divine Office (conveniently online- ibreviary) is a great way to align your mind and body in the present with Christ: bringing every part of us subject to Him who is the Life, Truth and Way.
4. Practice gratitude. Make it a habit to perceive the good in moments of joy and of sorrow. Gratitude grounds us in living a grace-filled life.
5. Remember Christ’s words that He will be with us always even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). Pray Dr. Greg’s brief but beautiful Catholic Mindfulness prayer throughout the day: Ever Present God, Here With Me Now, Help Me To Be Here With You.