Saturday, 29 September 2012

MINDFULNESS, AND THEN?


WILLIAM BLOOM:  THE POWER OF MODERN SPIRITUALITY
(Piatkus 2011, www.williambloom.com)

MARK WILLIAMS and DANNY PENMAN: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (2011)

ABBOT CHRISTOPHER JAMISON:  Finding Happiness – Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008; Phoenix, 2009)


 As we look forward to hearing Chris Sole on “Mindfulness and Compassion: a Buddhist’s view” on Sunday 30th September at 7pm at Wychwood Library, I have gone back to Bloom’s inspiring book whose subtitle is: “How to live a life of compassion and personal fulfilment”.  It could almost be a bridge between our discussions of Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and our next study-text,  the Abbot of Worth Christopher Jamison’s Finding Happiness – Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life (Introduction and Ch 1 to be discussed at Wychwood Library on October 14th, 7pm-9pm).

When asked ‘What is your religion?’ in the UK Census last year (only 17 spaces allowed under ‘Any other religion’) Bloom says he really wanted to put ‘spiritual but not religious’ and would have liked to use words like holistic.  Someone else suggested universalist, and others suggested that since diversity is the essence of modern spirituality it would be wrong to try and describe it in a box or single word at all. 

Modern spirituality for Bloom is made up of Connection, Reflection and Service.  And in the section on Connection he identifies four core skills, which are the ability to: 

  • Pause and be mindful;
  • Relax, centre and ground in your body;
  • Observe what is happening in a kind and good-humoured way; and
  • Yield to the feeling of connection. 

In the light of the current trend for Mindfulness – in our schools, in our local library, as a tool in cognitive behavioural therapy, in meditation – it was interesting to see that the practice of mindfulness for Bloom was only a start in a longer and deeper process.  I recommend the whole book, which as well as being instructive has a number of ‘exercises’ which are worth spending time on. 

Professor Mark Williams, speaking to a full house at the Christ Church Cathedral (Oxford) Summer Lectures last month, seemed to be making a similar point.  As the Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre he was well-placed to give a thorough introduction to the practice and relevance of Mindfulness.  Given the time constraints – and the non-specifically-religious nature of the context – he did not take us any further than a brief practical session to give us a flavour of the experience, but his parting words hinted that this could be – and presumably for him as an Anglican priest it is – a preparation for meditation, prayer, contemplation, or call it what you will. 

We know from Karen Armstrong that the practice of mindfulness features strongly in the contemplative practices of Buddhism and Chris Sole will no doubt enlighten us further.  Should we also plan to invite Mark Williams, or maybe even the Abbot of Worth who as a Benedictine monk will be extremely experienced in contemplation and Christian prayer? 



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