Ed: What led you to discover mindfulness?
Charles: My youngest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 1. Through the first 25 years of her life she had a dozen brain surgeries, two devices implanted into and taken out of her body, and had part of her brain removed. [She is doing well now and studying to be a chaplain.]
I saw the effects of something wrong with the human brain. Although I had been a Christian for decades, I still greatly struggled with anxiety and worry. Even though I consistently practiced many spiritual disciplines, I still struggled. I wondered if something was wrong with my brain.
And because of my struggle and the fact that we lived in this neuro-psychology world for so long, I began reading about the brain. I enrolled in an executive master’s program in the neuroscience of leadership and wrote my master’s thesis on mindfulness for the Christian leader, which led me into a deep dive on mindfulness.
I began to practice it with great positive effect on my personal anxiety and my walk with Christ.
Ed: How do you define mindfulness?
Charles: I define mindfulness as holy noticing—the art of noticing, with a holy purpose, God and his handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.
Ed: Why should Christians reclaim mindfulness? What are the benefits?
From the Old Testament to the New Testament to the early desert contemplatives, practices like mindfulness have been a part of our faith for centuries. I believe that Christians can greatly benefit by reclaiming this practice, especially as we see the benefits neuroscience is discovering that it brings.
1. It helps us avoid spiritual forgetting. Our tendency to spiritually forget God, by interrupting our thought stream that often gets hooked on unhealthy regrets and ruminations about the past, misrepresentations about the present, and worries about the future.
2. It enhances our mental health, by helping keep negative emotions from running unchecked, helping us avoid wrong assumptions and incorrect thought patterns, and by giving us greater awareness of our internal body sensations which can cue unhealthy, unconscious thinking patterns.
3. It increase our happiness by changing our interior landscape. Psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research indicates that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities. Mindfulness can help make a positive difference with that 40% by effecting neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire itself through experience, thoughts, and behavior.
4. It helps us learn to live in the valleys of life with more peace as it becomes more of an enduring trait in our lives. It helps us more often bring an awareness of God’s presence to our mind, heart, and activities, a posture Paul describes as praying without ceasing (1 Thes 5.17, NIV).
5. It minimizes the damaging effects of chronic stress by decreasing the amount of cortisol in our bloodstream.
6. It improves the bio-markers of a healthy body.There is a direct link between mindfulness and reducing genetic markers associated with inflammation, considered to be a key marker in many chronic diseases. Mindfulness is also associated with a higher heart rate variability (HRV), a key measure of health.
7. It may slow the aging process by slowing the shortening of the ends or chromosomes, called telomeres. The longer and healthier your telomeres, all else being equal, the longer you tend to live.
9. It helps us detach from wrong thinking in the same way that Teflon detaches from food, so that we think more with the mind of Christ.
Ed: What encouragement do you offer to Christians who may be skeptical or have preconceived notions about mindfulness?
Charles: Unfortunately, much of what we read today is influenced by Buddhist philosophy. But, biblical contemplative practices pre-date Buddhism, so Christians should not let the preponderance of Buddhist philosophy in mindfulness practice keep them from experiencing its benefits.
Ed: What is the BREATHe model?
Charles: It’s an acrostic that describes these six components of holy noticing:
B: Ponder and Yield Your Body
R: Review and Renew Your Relationships
E: Notice and Engage Your Environment
A: Label and Release Your Afflictive Emotions
T: Observe and Submit Your Thoughts
H: Search and Surrender Your Heart