Impulse buys are those unexpected, but suddenly must-have, purchases that we justify in a split second because they set our hearts racing with delight and possibility. Well, I exaggerate a little, but not much. This is my excuse for buying, not one, but two adult colouring-in books and a set of coloured pencils. In the interests of honesty I also have to admit to channelling the long-ago little girl in me and buying a pencil sharpener at Smiggle.
Both my colouring books incorporated the word mindfulness in their title. Mindfulness is something of a buzzword at present. It’s widely recognised as a way to reduce stress by paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Taking the time to focus on something as simple as colouring in a picture, pulling weeds, knitting , needlework or walking a labyrinth slows us down. It distances us from our endless multi-tasking, loosens our emotions. Filling spaces with colour can be one of those times, something physical that could almost be called mindless.
It’s not uncommon to read an article about mindfulness in a magazine, but unless it’s a religious publication you won’t see the words God or prayer anywhere, something Catholics used to call the presence of God. As a young religious I was introduced to a book written by Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the 17th century, called The Sacrament of the Present Moment.
As my adolescent mind understood it, or probably misunderstood, the idea was to keep my mind focused on God while the rest of me was occupied with whatever needed to be done. On an academic level I sort-of understood the process but there was always something technical or impersonal about the way I practiced it. That’s possibly because religious thinking in that era placed more emphasis on getting the head stuff right while trying to keep the troublesome body right out of the picture. Today I know that the ability to reflect on and deepen experience goes hand in hand with body-fullness. Together they form the heart of what I call spirituality.
David Steindel-Rast, a Benedictine monk, says that the great religious traditions, like Buddhism, use mindfulness interchangeably with aliveness. This puts the emphasis on human fullness, recognising the dichotomy between mind and body. It reminds me of Jesus’ words, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” We could read that as busy. . .busy. . .busy, but in the end all that does is tire us out, mentally and physically.
Somehow we need to identify the gaps and pockets of space in our day – walking between rooms, waiting at the traffic lights, watching the jug boil, peeling potatoes – little pockets of silence in which to just be before moving on, refreshed and somehow looser. Awareness of this space, of its brief emptiness, can put us in wordless touch with God, allowing God to give us what we need. The Christian word for it is contemplative living.