Insects: A Mindfulness Exercise

Insects in the summer used to just bug people. Now, concern about reduced number of bees and other insects give us all a chance to practice mindfulness. And to be thankful for their place in God’s plan for Earth.

This idea first developed when I learned about a study in the journal Biological Conservation in April 2019. It said about 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction. Wow! It turns out that scientists have been concerned about the reduced number of insects for several years.

In its January 2021 issue, the science journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) put together a series of 12 separate studies from 56 scientists in several countries about insect populations. University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum equated the issue to the first studies on climate change 30 years ago. She said insects are critical to the natural food chain and pollinate human crops. On the other hand, many humans hate them.

These studies were released about the same time that I developed skeeter syndrome. Yes, that’s a real thing. It means that I am allergic to the saliva of mosquitos. Each bite swells up into a small mountain on my skin that itches and hurts for weeks.

Searching for prayers about insects also was informative. Almost all of them were prayers to make insects go away, rather than be fruitful and multiply. While I may want the mosquitos to stay away from me, I also want them to exist. Even if they are sometimes identified as the deadliest life form on Earth, God has a purpose for them.

Be thankful for insects

So how can we bring Christian mindfulness to insects? The easiest way is to notice them and pray for them. I have adapted two prayers that I found online. The first one, which I changed into modern English, is about bees:

Lord God, Almighty, you created heaven and earth, and all the animals that live in the air and on the earth for the use of man. You have directed that the ministers of Your holy Church should light candles made of beeswax when the holy sacrifice is offered in which the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son, becomes present and is consumed. Send down Your blessing on these bees, that they may multiply, be fruitful and be preserved from all harm so that the product of their labor may be used to Your honor, and to the honor of Your Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the most blessed Virgin Mary. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

catholic.org

Another prayer I found online begins like this:

May compassion and love reign over all the earth for all the tiny beings who live in the soil, the trees, the water, and the air, creating harmony and balance with your songs, your pollinating of flowers, your graceful flight, your mysterious transformations, and your miraculous ability to literally create soil in which new plants can take root.

allcreatures.org blog

Five ways to help insects survive

A mindful approach to insects also could include helping them survive. Here are five ideas I found:

  1. Reduce the number of times you mow your grass.
  2. Plant native plants. Many insects need these to survive.
  3. Avoid pesticides and go organic in your yard and garden.
  4. Leave old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone. They are home to countless species.
  5. Support and volunteer in conservation organizations.

The Lord made insects as part of His plan for planet Earth. Let’s help Him keep them alive.

a yellow bird in a tree

Play First Bird of My Day

“First Bird of My Day” is a worldwide game that began when an English woman decided to be mindful about which bird she saw first each day.

In the May 2022 issue of The Simple Things magazine, Hannah Bourne-Taylor told her story. It began when she and her husband moved to a remote village in Ghana for his work. She felt depressed and disconnected at first. Then she noticed that the birds around her were unfamiliar and beautiful.

As she began to learn about them, she began a mindfulness practice of looking outside each morning to note what bird she saw first. When the family returned to England, Hannah began sharing her game on Twitter using the hashtag #firstbirdofmyday. (Her Twitter handle is @WriterHannahBT)

Over time, people around the world have started playing the game. On the day I wrote this, one man was sharing a map of everyone’s first birds on the Twitter hashtag. She even gets posts from Antarctica, which the bird mentioned is often a penguin.

Creating mindful routines and rituals like this can build mindfulness and add joy to life. Those of us practicing Christian mindfulness also can pray over the first bird and its winged brethren. Due to the global climate change, many species are experiencing declines. We can thank God for the birds, which Jesus loved to observe, and pray for their future.

boy listening to sea shell

Go Outside and Listen

Listen. One of the pandemic’s benefits has been an increase in the amount of time spent in nature. In fact, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development used the pandemic to study the benefits of time in the fresh air.

The results were even better than expected. Not only did spending time outdoors improve general well-being, but it also altered and improved brain structure. The areas of the brain impacted affect mood, concentration and working memory. Spending time in nature could not be a better idea.

Christian mindfulness practices are all easy to adapt to the outdoors. One of simplest is mindful listening to the quiet around you. Is silence ever really silent? Tuning into the sounds around you is a great way to stay in the present moment. And hearing those sounds offers opportunities for prayers of gratitude and worship for the world God made.

The practice is simple.

  • Go to a place outside where you can feel safe and relaxed.
  • Close your eyes, if you’d like, and listen to the sounds of your own breathing first.
  • Thank God for this opportunity to be in His creation.
  • Listen to the sounds as they occur. Hear them come and go.
  • If you identify a sound of something you love (a robin, for example), praise God for it.
  • Notice how this impacts your mood and your body.
  • Close with a time of worship by thinking about the creation around you.

It’s like your mother said: Go outside and play. It’s good for you.

Try Radical Acceptance

Your mind is labeling everyone and everything, but you may not even notice. Yet those labels or judgments show up when you interact with people.

Have you ever noticed that you suspend disbelief when you listen to Person A but react with cynicism to what Person B says? Does walking down a particular hallway make you feel stressed?

You can become more aware of this with this Christian mindfulness exercise. It helps us to not behave on automatic pilot, but to become more aware. That way we can walk through our day with Jesus, not our half-buried emotions, leading the way.

  1. Pray to ask God to give you the ability to listen, really listen, to your automatic thoughts. Ask for blessing for this exercise, which you can do all day or just for a few hours.
  2. Be open to surprises and new insights. You may know how much you dread seeing one supervisor. (I used to have a boss with the company nickname “Attila the Hen.”) But you may not know how you automatically feel toward people who cause you less auto-stress.
  3. On a “typical” day, listen to what jumps into your mind when you see individuals, attend groups or go places. For example, walk through the halls of your office space, and notice what you are quietly saying to yourself. How does it feel when you see This Person or pass That Person’s office door? Does a certain room or sight make you feel uneasy automatically?
  4. Acknowledge these emotions. We don’t want to run away from our feelings. We want to be aware of them so we will not behave on automatic pilot.
  5. Realize that you can’t control your emotions, other people or situations. But you can accept that you have some emotional reactions to people and places. And you can control your actions. asking for the grace to walk with Jesus through our daily activities.

This is part of “radical acceptance.” Introduced into American culture by Tara Brach, the concept is used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is a close relative of mindfulness. We pay attention to only what is happening in the present moment (mindfulness) in the presence of God (Christian mindfulness), and we accept that we cannot control reality (radical acceptance).

By realizing the reality of the emotions that we have attached to people and places, we can bring those feelings to Jesus and make a more sound decision about what to do. It’s a good idea to conduct this exercise quarterly or whenever you experience a significant change in your surroundings.

Beat Burnout

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, burnout is everywhere. The American Psychological Association, in its 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, found a frightening level of burnout that’s no surprise to most people.

The survey found that 79 percent of employees surveyed had work-related stress in the previous 30 days. The occupations reporting the highest levels of burnout were (again, no surprise here) health care and education. But the symptoms of burnout spread across most occupations. The level of negative impacts reported include:

  • 44% had physical fatigue (a 38% increase since 2019)
  • 36% had cognitive weariness
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 26% felt lack of interest, motivation or energy
  • 19% reported lack of effort at work

So what is exactly is burnout? Back in 2019, the World Health Organization defined it as a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It has three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Is this you?

Three Christian mindfulness practices to fight burnout

Just One Thing: Pick one task a day to perform with Christian mindfulness. Pray before and after. Ask God to be present with you as you do the task. Focus your full attention on the work in the presence of God. You could change tasks each day.

Ask for Change: Starting a new job is generally exciting, if somewhat stressful, because there is so much to learn. Use prayer and reflection to think about what new thing you’d like to learn. Or what new responsibility you’d like to take on. Come up with a proposal about how to learn to do those things. Take it to your boss, who may be happy to help if just to get you to stay.

Add a Prayer Break: Adding a five or 10-minute prayer break to your day is fairly easy. Mark it on the schedule, using a code word if necessary. Then stop to pray for your work, upcoming meetings, your co-workers and your organization’s mission. You may feel more purpose and insight when you get back to your work.

Be sure to bring your burnout into the healing power of Christian mindfulness. It will help you decide if it’s time to join the Great Resignation or if you just need to make a change in your current job.

Look Up

Look Up is an easy Christian mindfulness exercise. Yet it helps us to grow our perspective, gratitude and visual mindfulness.

How easy is it? Just two steps.

Step 1: Look up.

Step. 2: Give thanks for what you see.

When you deliberately look up, you notice many new things. I am short, so looking up sometimes lets me see things that taller people view everyday!

What’s up there? Roofs, treetops, interesting architecture, ceiling treatments, light fixtures, clouds of varying colors and shapes, birds and more.

This exercise improves our awareness of the world around us. And it builds our gratitude for our cozy inside spaces, our cities and neighborhoods and the glory of outdoors. It helps us to get outside of our interior worries.

Give it a try a few times a day, and see what happens!

Find the Silver Lining

“Inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud,” comedian George Carlin used to joke. Some days we all agree with him. Recently I discovered a secular practice called “Find the Silver Lining” that easily adapts to Christian mindfulness.

The practice was from the Greater Good Science Center website. The center is at the University of California Berkeley. It provides research-based tools and training to shift our culture toward a kinder, more compassionate society.

The site has a lot of positive psychology materials:

  • An online magazine featuring stories and tips for building social-emotional well-being.
  • Free e-newsletters.
  • Research-based practices for happiness, resilience, kindness and connection.
  • A cool monthly Happiness Calendar with daily tips.

One of the research-based practices is the Find the Silver Lining practice. It can bring new perspective and even some peace of mind to our most difficult experiences. Here’s how to do it as a mindful Christian:

  1. Go before the Lord to thank him for things you easily appreciate: your health, your church, trees, whatever comes to mind.
  2. Then write about something that has been negative in your life: an event, person or any life circumstance.
  3. Look for two or three things that are the silver livings to that negative experience.
  4. Pray a gratitude prayer for them, and ask the Lord to help you to see silver linings more easily.

The poet Maggie Smith tried the secular version of this practice. You can read about her experience on the center’s website here. More resources for leading your mindful Christian life are found on the Resource Page here.

Overcome Sunday Night Syndrome

As Sabbath closes on Sunday night, a sense of dread can set in. It’s even got a name: Sunday night syndrome. (Actually it has more than one name. The British call it Sunday night scaries. It’s also called the Sunday night blues.) A sense of anticipatory anxiety about the week ahead comes in and steals away the last remaining hours of the weekend.

It’s a common problem. LinkedIn’s survey in 2018 found 80 percent of respondents experienced it. 80 percent! The younger you are, the higher the figure: 90 percent among millennials and 93 percent among Gen Z. The No. 1 cause was worry, specifically about workload size, work-life balance and the things left undone last week.

Here’s how Christian mindfulness can help

Create a Sunday night practice. Do something different on Sunday night. It can be watching your favorite television show, watching a funny movie, reading a book, listening to a playlist, calling your best friend or otherwise doing something that makes the night fun. Keep your promises to yourself and do this every week. It reframes the evening so that it’s guaranteed to have pleasant moments.

Talk to God about your workload and your work-life balance. This is part of your Sunday night practice. As in all Christian mindfulness exercises, stay in the present moment in the presence of God. Share your worries and concerns about the week ahead. Ask for God’s guidance as you decide what to do.

Write every task down. It helps to keep it out of your head at night. Mark what can be delegated and what can be delayed (or not done at all). If your schedule allows, you can also do this last thing Friday afternoon so you don’t have to think about it at all Sunday.

Do a loving-kindness meditation. You’ll find out how here.

Put self-care on next week’s schedule. Block out times on your schedule for self-care during the week. If a micromanaging boss is reviewing your schedule too much, block out times with words that are acceptable in your workplace environment. Also, pray about looking for a different job. You don’t have to work for a difficult person these days.

Add a nature walk to your Sunday routine. Walking in nature, also called forest bathing, reduces stress. Just stay in the present and speak to God about what you see during the walk.

Keep your interior (and verbal) language positive. Whining and moaning make things worse. Try replacing “I have to” with “I get to.” Offer genuine prayers of gratitude for your work, your workplace and your co-workers.

Keep off your phone and emails. When the fun part of Sunday night begins, put your phone in another room. Stop looking at work emails. If it looks like you are fine with working on Sunday night, you’ll be working every Sunday night. There’s a worker shortage. Take advantage of it to take care of yourself.

Avoid drinking alcohol. You know, don’t you, that this makes it worse. Find something else to drink that makes it better.

Figure out how tired you are. If you still feel exhausted at the end of the weekend, go to bed early. Or plan to have an early night in bed on Monday evening.

Sunday night syndrome involves the opposite for Christian mindfulness. You are thinking about the future and you are not counting on the presence of God to help. Use these practices to move into the present moment with God and release those worries.

keyboard with sign that says break time

Take a Mini-Break

Are you standing in line today? Take a mini-break. In the shower? Take a mini-break.

Why? Mini-breaks are rapidly joining the endangered species list of activities. When we can always pull out our phones, the opportunity to rest our minds and recenter our spirits diminishes.

Our brains are not designed to constantly take in data, wrote Jade Beecroft in an article in Breathe magazine, issue 44. We need pauses to reflect and, frankly, to think. Yet the transitional times for this are fading away. It’s a lot easier to scan email or Instagram during those odd moments.

Beecroft cites a University of Texas study that found even the presence of a face-down smartphone on a person’s desk reduced that person’s cognitive ability. Why? Because part of their brains were engaged in the effort of not picking up the phone. Yikes!

Beecroft’s article even includes some scary information: Constant use of the smartphone can create a condition called digital dementia. We underuse the frontal lobes of our brain, causing short-term memory issues, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

In Christian mindfulness, we need mini-breaks regularly not only to think, but to reconnect with the presence of God. Saying the Jesus prayer is a good option while waiting for the microwave to reheat coffee, for example.

The way to take a mini-break is simple: Put your phone away in a consistent spot where you can’t see it. (So you don’t end up worrying about finding it.) Say the Jesus prayer. Be present in the moment.

The result can be a great idea. (There’s a reason that good ideas happen in the shower.) Or you can enjoy a deep moment of inner peace. Either way, it’s a better space than doom scrolling ever will be.

Let 2 Index Cards Guide Your 2022

This Christian mindfulness exercise is one of the best ways I’ve found to find out why you love (or dislike) your job and/or your life. It starts with two index cards. Ideally, you can find two different card colors: one green and one yellow, for example. Depending on the size, you may need more than one of each.

You are going to carry those cards with you for at least three days. Every time you do a task that drains or upsets you, write that task on the yellow card. On the green card, record every task that gives you joy, pleasure or energy.

In just a few days, you’ll be able to see visually if you do more tasks you like or more that you don’t like. If you are doing lots of things you don’t like, you need to pray about that. Are you actually doing God’s will, or does He want you to change something about your life?

This exercise can help you decide if you need a different job, if you should change up your spiritual disciplines, if you need to work on a relationship or if you need to go get counseling.

You also can incorporate more of the tasks on the green card into your days, so you can enjoy more happiness. You can delegate or stop doing some of the things on the yellow card.

When I tried this in my second-to-last job, I found that the green card was actually a job description that I looked for in my next job. And later, the green and yellow cards helped me to plan my retirement, which has been joyous even in a pandemic.

Just be sure to pray over the results, so you don’t just see what you want to see. It’s an easy way to make 2022 a better year.