Mindfulness – writing before exams

I’ve mentioned mindfulness a bit in this blog. I don’t practice mindfulness every day in terms of meditation, breathing, body scans etc. But I do try and practice it as a lifestyle. I try and be aware of what I’m experiencing moment to moment, not be too futuristic nor live in the past and to be aware of what’s happening inside me – my thoughts and feelings.

I try and allow my feelings to be and my thoughts to come and go without fusing with them. I try and allow my thoughts and feelings to be the actors on stage while staying in the audience. I experience the drama, but try and refrain from jumping up on stage and being part of the drama. I suppose of verge more toward the ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) strain of mindfulness than the Buddhist/yoga strain which emphasizes practice (thirty to sixty minutes a day of breathing, sitting etc.) I guess I would really like to do yoga and meditation, but I’m not disciplined enough (I wish I was because there’s no denying the evidence around the changes to the brain that takes place).

Some really interesting research recently came out of Chicago University around the affect of anxiety on performance. Researchers found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high–stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. Interestingly, researchers showed that it wasn’t just the act of writing that inoculated students against choking; rather, specifically writing about test–related thoughts and feelings had helped.

What they found was that anxiety and stress took up “working memory” – something like RAM in a computer or CPU firepower and decreased performance. Basically this was an exercise in mindfulness. It turns an experience of stress and anxiety, into one of observing the stress and anxiety. Of noticing it, and acknowledging it (by writing it down). How does this work? It re-engages the cognitive left cerebral hemisphere which has been deactivated as brain function has descended into the more primal limbic system where flight, freeze, fight mechanisms have taken over due to the fear, anxiety and stress.

Actions of mindfulness (such as writing) are powerful and practiced consistently can produce a more peaceful, lower stress, richer life experience and the body of evidence continues to grow.

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More on Mastery

So, having touched on the thought of “Mystery before Mastery but not without Mastery” you’ve probably already realized some of the downsides if you get this one backwards.

Part of the pressure we face as pastors is “to be an example to all” – which we probably think is biblical… well it sort of is and sort of isn’t. If we have a modern mindset which says performance, efficiency and results are primary, then we equate being an example to “having it all together” – i.e. we need to “master” this life of faith we lead, and be examples of how to “master” the Christian life.

But here’s what I think….. Paul encouraged Timothy to be an example, but qualified it by saying “let your growth be evident to all”. In other words, Timothy was to be an example of growth and following Jesus, not an example of mastery. This allows mystery to come before mastery and takes a whole lot of pressure off Timothy.

Pastors feel like their authority or “platform” or “right to speak into others’ lives” comes from their mastery. But here’s the kicker. We’re no more spiritual than anyone else (we all have the holy spirit living in us), we may be more or less mature than others in certain areas and we may be no less weaker or stronger than anyone else… But we have been called to be an example. In other words, I think God has a call on our lives to be put in a fish bowl, so people can watch us grow and follow Jesus and in doing so are encouraged, inspired and strengthened to growth in their own life.