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.

Look Back … Do You See God?

New Year’s Eve is a traditional time for reviewing the past year. We create annual Good Riddance lists to burn during the evening. Those lists contain the things that we hated about the year.

This year, we also created two more lists: a gratitude list and a list of events where we saw God at work The gratitude list is self-explanatory. The list of God at work takes a little more thought.

I look back through the journals of the year to find days of unexpected blessing … when I can see God at work. Sometimes it’s obvious: a sermon that hit me over the head and changed the way I acted for the rest of the year. Or a family member who agrees to take medicine needed to improve his life.

Other times I can see God is little acts and coincidences: the time I accidentally knocked a treasured prayer candle I’ve had for decades off the mantle. The glass part separated from the candle and the metal, landing without injury in an empty basket. How did that happen? I think it was God, who demonstrated His presence in the tiny, but deeply important, aspects of my prayer life.

Looking for God in all the small places and the big events is an excellent way to begin 2022. Please join me in having a holy encounter on this New Year’s Eve.

Mindfulness Behind the Wheel

Driving during the Christmas season is a chance to start a new habit: practicing Christian mindfulness behind the wheel. It’s an exercise in awareness and kindness.

So often we drive in a semi-conscious state, not truly sure how we got there when we arrive. Have you ever “accidentally” started driving to work, when you were going somewhere else? I know I have.

So first, we respect the reality: We are operating driving a potentially deadly piece of heavy machinery. We don’t want to be distracted. Staying aware helps us stay alive.

Awareness allows us to be intentional about practicing kindness and courtesy to fellow drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclers. Allow people to merge, for heaven’s sake. (And I mean that literally.) Watch out for those walking and cycling around you. And calm yourself when someone is actually obeying the speed limit in front of you. How many times have drivers raced around your car to find themselves sitting next to you at the next light? Plenty, for me.

Author Judith Hurrell, in a recent article in either Breathe or Oh! magazine (I lost the reference), suggested that we remind ourselves that everyone who is driving experiences happiness and suffering. She uses words from the loving-kindness meditation to bless people as they go by.

Blessing our fellow drivers helps us to recall that Jesus loves all of us, even the motorcyclist roaring by you without a helmet.

Bringing words of peace and kindness into the car with you also helps, whether it be a helpful podcast or beautiful music. In my former job, my commute could range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on traffic. I truly enjoyed every moment because I was listening to calming (or funny) audio the whole time. I always arrived at work in a better mood than when I left the house.

The mindlessness of driving can be converted into a flow experience. When you bring intense focus to a task that involves skill and the ability to respond quickly, you can become deeply immersed in your driving. You can enjoy the shades of blue in the sky and the colors of the trees. This time of year, you can enjoy the lights and holiday displays, giving thanks to God for the joy that they create.

It’s a great time to communicate with God, who made all these things. Praising the Lord as you head to an appointment is a good way to be open and attentive during the day.

Starting now to be a holy driver can create a habit that brings joy all year.

Advent candles

Five Ways to Celebrate Advent

The four weeks of Advent are the beginning of the Christian year. Bringing mindfulness and intention to those four weeks helps you create a different holiday season from Christmas … one that prepares you for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. Advent is quiet, not festive. Simple, not overstuffed. Focused on the spiritual, not the material.

The season is best known for Advent wreathes and Advent calendars. (You can get a Christ-centered calendar in addition to one with toys or chocolates.) Other ideas include:

  1. Use a creche that you can fill gradually to tell the Christmas story. Week 1: Put up the empty creche. Week 2: Add the animals. Week 3: Add the shepherds and their sheep. Week 4: Add the angel. Christmas Eve: Add Mary and Joseph. Christmas Day: Add baby Jesus. Epiphany: Add the wide men and their camels.
  2. Wrap 20ish books in Christmas paper, and put them in a basket. You pick out one book per night to read to your children.
  3. Put out a basket to collect money for a cause during Advent. Keep a list in the basket of all the good deeds that the kids (and you) have done. Discuss the good deeds at Christmas Eve dinner.
  4. Find Advent playlists on Spotify to find out the difference between Advent music and Christmas music.
  5. Make or buy consumable gifts, such as food, to reduce clutter and waste.

Once you are in the Advent frame of mind, you can create your own traditions. When my kids were little, we had a small manger and a baby Jesus. When the kids did something nice, they got to put hay in baby Jesus’ manger to make him more comfortable. One year this did result in a hay-throwing situation, but overall it was successful.

Advent is a joyous time of year that prepares you for the Christmas season. Do enjoy it!

Make Blessing Bags

Making blessing bags for homeless people is a nice addition to your Thanksgiving holiday. We all know Thanksgiving should be much more than turkey, football and family close-encounters. An approach based on Christian mindfulness turns the day into a celebration of gratitude and a chance to help others.

Blessing bags can be in your car or your bag (if you take a train or bus around town) all year. When you see a homeless person asking for money, you can ask them if they would like the bag.

A Blessing Bag

Use a see-through container – either a large ZipLock bag or a see-through plastic bag. Then fill it with items to feed and help the homeless, such as:

  • Warm socks
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Face masks
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Beef jerky
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mints
  • Lip balm
  • A washcloth
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Single-dose packs of pain reliever
  • Band-Aids
  • Comb and brush
  • Bottled water
  • Hand warmers
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Tampons for women
  • Fast food restaurant gift cards
  • A few dollars
  • A note of blessing (You can buy a pack of blessing notes at Hobby Lobby.)

If you keep a place in your home for blessing bag materials, you can put packages you get at the dentist and other freebies in the bag. Assembling these bags can make a great Thanksgiving activity for kids and other family members.

Other aspects of a mindful Christian Thanksgiving can include:

  • Send thank you cards to people who have made your life better this year.
  • Create a gratitude pumpkin for your table.
  • Spend time writing down your blessings.
  • Thank God for answered prayers.

Christian Mindfulness and Implicit Bias

The last two years have taught some of us that we might be more racist than we think, at least unconsciously. A research-based article in Mindful Magazine’s December 2021 issue argues that mindfulness exercises may give us tools to reduce unconscious bias. And I see the point.

Neuroscientist Wendy Hansenkamp, who is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Virginia, wrote the article. I cannot find the article online. But discussions about it and other information on mindfulness and bias are on the magazine’s website here.

She writes that “society, culture, media and power structures” can instill prejudice in our subconscious without us realizing it. The big idea is that engaging repeatedly in practices that increase awareness, focus on our similarities as humans, and develop care and kindness can combat this implicit bias.

Hansenkamp goes into several studies that indicate that this works. I believe it on its face, and I think Christian mindfulness gives us an even better chance of rooting out stereotypes and subconscious fears.

She focuses most on the loving-kindness practice, which I have adapted for Christian mindfulness here. This practice retains enough distance from the subject to emphasize our common role as God’s beloved children. Hansenkamp also discusses a 2014 Yale study that showed that participants who had been practicing loving kindness reduced their implicit bias, while those who only learned and discussed the subject did not.

By seeing each individual around us as a creation of God and blessing those people in our words and actions, we can come closer to ending any unconscious prejudice we carry. Take a look at your practice and see if you can incorporate the faces of those different from you in your work on your own compassion.

exterior of decorated mood box

Create a Mood Box

Developing a mood box or book is a good exercise in contemplative Christian mindfulness, particularly when you are fighting against negative thinking. I’ve used this practice with people struggling against serious illness and/or depression. It is just as effective for the ups and downs of daily life.

The first step is to determine what mood you want to feel. You can create mood boxes or books to encourage hope, joy, optimism, trust in God, contentment and more.

Select an attractive box or blank book that, if possible, reflects this emphasis. This is a private exercise, so the box has to speak to you and no one else. You also can decorate the box or book to please yourself. I’ve also used decorated photo storage boxes to get a head start on the look I wanted.

Then fill the box or book with cues that encourage the mood you want. Try to appeal to many of your senses. You can add:

  • Scripture verses
  • Quotes from books
  • Song lyrics
  • Photographs
  • Images cut from magazines or books
  • CDs
  • Essential oils
  • Souvenirs
  • Fabrics
  • Items from nature

If you are creating a book rather than a box, you can put essential oils or perfume on the pages to get scent. Continue to add to the box over time, or to remove things if they lose their appeal.

One of my friends has a mood box based on hope, originally created as she served as caregiver for a sick loved one. When the person died, she made a ritual of emptying the box and starting to collect box contents again.

Put the mood box or book in a place where you can see it daily. When you feel far from your desired mood, use it for a few minutes to help yourself go on the right path.

Be Kind With Your Phone

Super Sad True Love Story, published in 2010, was set in the near future … also known as now. Author Gary Shteyngart wrote about Americans who were tied to their devices, rarely looking up and rarely putting them down. It was appalling at the time.

What was science fiction in 2010 is reality today. Research shows that Americans spend an average screen time of 5.4 hours on their mobile phones daily. About half of that is time spent on social media. We have 294.15 million smartphone users in the United States. The U.S. population is 329.5 million. That means almost everyone who isn’t a little kid has a cell phone.

Like every piece of technology, smart phones can be used for good.

Ten ways to use your phone as a force for good

  1. What apps would Jesus have? You can read the Bible, do a meditation, read a devotional and pray a piece of liturgy on your phone. Some recommendations about apps to download are in the resource section here.
  2. Be intentional about what you post on social media. Think it through and decide what you want to accomplish. You can only post things that cause people to smile (or laugh). You can spread thoughts of peace and kindness. You can be intentional about who follows you.
  3. Make rules for yourself about cell phone use. Such as, put the phone on recharge during meals to keep it off the table during a meal. Or, never read email until you’ve done morning prayer.
  4. Designate time to read emails and calm yourself first. Pray before you open your email. Ask for wisdom, discernment and calm. Scheduling time to read them keeps you from constantly scanning your phone for emails. If people need to contact you from work, you can let people know that you read your emails at these specific times. If anything is too urgent to wait until that time, they can text or call you.
  5. Express your appreciation to someone. Write a post giving someone (a friend, colleague or a person you admire but don’t know personally) a compliment. This is especially nice if you are sending it to a person who means a lot to you, but doesn’t have hundreds or thousands of followers.
  6. Write a recommendation about a colleague or vendor on LinkedIn. Taking the time to give positive reviews is very welcome.
  7. If Starbucks has a personnel shortage, don’t offer to pay for the person behind you. Counterintuitive, I know. But paying for the person behind you makes the cashier’s job more difficult. In a time of personnel shortages, that can be tough. Find another ways to pay it forward.
  8. Promote a small business. If you’ve had a good experience with a small business, say so in a nice review. You can also share their posts on your social media.
  9. Like a newsletter or blog, If you’ve been reading someone’s blog for a while and like what they doing, let them know. You also could pick a favorite, never-miss podcast to sponsor on Patreon.
  10. Compliment a parent on their kids. Be specific.

Having the intention of using your phone and your social media in kindness and caring can turn a big time-sucking problem into a blessing for others.

Use Your Fork. Your Mind Will Follow.

Mindful eating can be an impactful element of Christian mindfulness. When we stay present and grateful to God’s presence, the experience of wolfing down a meal changes. Better health and a deeper understanding of God’s role in “our daily bread” can result.

Some new ideas for building the mindful eating practice were in a recent article in Good Housekeeping by Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Her article suggests combining intuitive eating, which rejects prescribed diets and helps people come to peace about food, with mindful eating, which requires staying present during the meal.

Sassos’ tips start with a body scan to see how hungry you actually are. Then she suggests eating without distraction … no screens, phones on mute and off the table.

Her third tip centers on gratitude. This is where we can give thanks to God for the food and the circumstances in which you are eating. Bless all those involved in the creation of your food, from the fields to the plants to the kitchen. If you’re the cook, thank God for your arms and hands, for your ability to read or create a recipe, and for the ingredients you found.

Then you eat. Your fork can be your best friend in eating mindfully. Pick it up to give yourself a bite, and then put it down. Eat the bite completely, paying attention to the flavors and the textures. Praise God and the cook for creativity. Then pick up the fork again. If you concentrate on putting your fork down after every bite, staying present with your food is much easier. You can find more on my approach to mindful Christian eating here.

Sassos also has some wise words about practicing mindful eating when children are adding joy and chaos to the meal. Just pick one thing, such as one bite at a time, to do. The kitchen table is also a wonderful place to inspire the rest of the family by saying grace that thanks all involved in the food, including God. The prayers can lead to real conversations about food production that kids will remember for years.