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.

closeup photo of brown and black dog face

How to Bless Your Pets

Blessing pets is part of October 4’s usual celebration of St. Francis of Assisi. You can do it at home wherever you can bring the pets together. Here is the Blessing of the Animals:

Leader: Wonderful are all God’s works. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

All: Now and forever.

Leader: The animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth and the sea. They share in the ways of human beings. They are part of our lives. Francis of Assist recognized this when he called the animals, wild and tame, his brothers and sisters. Remembering Francis’ love for these brothers and sisters of ours, we invoke God’s blessing on these animals, and we thank God for letting us share the earth with all creatures.

All: Have a time of silence, and then offer specific prayers for the pets and for all creatures. Then all say the Lord’s Prayer.

All: Place hands on the animals in blessing.

Leader: O God, you have done all things wisely. In your goodness you have made us in your image and given us care over other living things. In the prayer of Albert Schweitzer, O Heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath. Guard them for all evil, and let them sleep in peace. Amen

Autumn: It’s Nuts. And Holy.

Christian mindfulness practices are beautiful in the autumn. If we concentrate on our neighborhoods and local parks, we can all enjoy God’s majesty and creativity in the fall.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pick a tree in the neighborhood that changes color. Visit it every day to watch the subtle changes. I’ve always loved that the autumn hues are always present in the leaves. They are green only because they are full of chlorophyll.
  • Take your devotions outdoors. Bring a spiritual book to a park to read. Pray under the prettiest tree.
  • Go nutting. Find true nuts like acorns and hazelnuts. (Believe it or not, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews aren’t true nuts, which are hard-shelled, one-seeded fruits of the tree.) You can use the nuts in decorating. Or go nuts and roast them. (Acorns are pretty bitter, but edible.)
  • Go for a gratitude walk to thank the Lord for all the natural beauty you see, one thing at a time.
  • Watch the squirrels getting ready for winter. Do you know the Lord has blessed them with the ability to remember where they stored their food?
  • Eat outdoors as often as possible. Even better, take Jesus on a picnic.

Autumn is a time when the beauty, creativity and wisdom of the Lord is visible throughout the landscape. Be sure to enjoy it.

Resource: Finding Yourself in the Kitchen

“Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook” should be sipped, not devoured in chunks. Zen priest Dana Velden‘s book is a gathering of short mindfulness practices and essays based in the kitchen.

Velden, a food writer based in Oakland, Calif., provides a handful of detailed recipes. But most of the book is about paying attention while cooking. The book has a fan base. Goodreads readers give it 4.1 out of a possible 5 stars. On Amazon, it has 5 out of 5 stars with 40 ratings.

My favorite mindfulness practice in the book is soji, a 20-minute period in Zen temples where the whole community cleans together. It usually happens after morning meditation. Each person gets a simple cleaning task, such as sweep the floor. Everyone does their task silently and without hurrying to finish it.

You clean or sweep or dry dishes mindfully until someone rings a bell. Then you stop. And go onto the next thing, usually breakfast.

Velden suggests that we consider approaching some of our tasks on our to-do lists with a soji perspective. “What would happen if it wasn’t so much about finishing but more about simply doing? What burdens can be put down when we redirect our energies not toward the goal, but to the process itself each moment along the way?” she writes.

She also says that soji teaches people how to get tasks done when they don’t want to do them. She uses the principle to tackle jobs she dreads around the house. It’s an interesting concept, although I wonder if my family would feel comfortable in a house full of half-done tasks. Could be that’s better than not-done tasks.

You’ll find more resources for practicing Christian mindfulness here.

Make a Morning Playlist

The British magazine “Oh!” had an excellent idea in its latest issue: Make a morning playlist.

In Pandemic Year Two, many of us are trying hard to get back into the swing of life. Yet life does not seem to cooperate. “I thought this would be over by now” is the national mood.

So why not start by picking 10 songs that always lift your spirits. Put them in a playlist on Spotify or any other method you have. And use them to combat gray mornings.

For example, I find that I can work myself into a giant funk while getting dressed for the day. So I started listening and singing alone to uplifting praise music. It helps.

You can find some other ideas for your own list from these Spotify playlists:

Have fun! Let me know what your favorite songs are.

No More Mean Mondays

You are not imagining it. People are meaner on Mondays.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people display less civility and kindness on Mondays than they do the rest of the week. But the study does contain some good news for those of us who practice any form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness stabilizes this situation. People who practice it are able to maintain a stable level of kindness and courteous behavior across the week.

This is no surprise to me. My form of mindfulness … Christian mindfulness … gives you a solid foundation and handrails to walk across difficult days. It’s a stabilizing force for the kind of inner peace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

Staying in the present moment in the presence of God brings a continual source of strength. You learn, as many do, that the only thing you can control is yourself. Christian mindfulness actually gives you the graces necessary to be able to do that in a kind way on a fairly consistent basis.

Determination and Fear: The Legacy of 9/11

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I remember that day:

  • Sitting in my office at my computer when a colleague named Jeff LaRue poked his head in my office and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
  • Realizing this was not a small plane crash.
  • Interrupting my CEO in a client meeting in the conference room to say that planes had crashed into both towers and the Pentagon. “Could we turn on the TV here?” The client was annoyed at my interruption.
  • Listening to the church bell, located across the street from our office tower, begin to toll. It continued to toll all day. The last time that happened was Pearl Harbor.
  • Watching the first tower collapse from the same viewpoint where I last saw the towers two weeks before.
  • Heading home to be with my high school student, calling my other child in a college dorm room, and contacting my husband who was on the road.
  • Working on a proposal while watching the television in my living room.
  • Finding out that my husband didn’t realize the extent of the situation until he got to a hotel and watching it on television.
  • Looking at the sky which now contained no airplanes.
  • Waking up the next morning to wonder what would happen that day.

The United States was probably at its best that week. We were determined in the face of fear. Many bad decisions later, we aren’t at our best. But we know that Christians can always be determined in the face of fear. Our side has already won.

The Sept. 11 reading of Sarah Young’s wonderful devotional “Jesus Always” points out that the world has always been at war. Yet we do not have to be afraid. Jesus has achieved the victory that allows us to have a hope and a future. But we are still not alone in the world. The dark side is still setting off explosions as it moves in defeat. So we are cautioned to have self-control and be alert.

Is it possible to be alert without feeling all-consuming fear? Yes. But we must be determined and ask for grace to achieve that state. Paul of Tarsus tells us that we are at our best when we recognize that we are weak and allow God to move through us.

So what does determination look like when we know that we are weak? Here are seven indicators:

  1. We expect God to help when we are doing His will.
  2. We believe in the importance of our role in the kingdom of God.
  3. We focus our attention on the work we are doing.
  4. We listen to God’s word and seek his will for next steps.
  5. We avoid distraction.
  6. We ask for help when we need it.
  7. We keep going even when things get difficult.

None of us alive on 9/11 predicted the next 20 years. But God did know what would happen. Walking with Him in Christian mindfulness may help us to make the next 20 more successful for the kingdom.