Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Mindfulness an alternative to fear in face of security threats


With fear mongering talk of a national security emergency from our Prime Minister, perhaps we need practices which help us engage our reality with gratitude rather than fear.

We speak of health of mind and body as we are increasingly conscious of the mental health challenges we face as a community. Amidst the unrelenting busyness and worry of our days, the merits of pausing in silence are becoming clearer.

Let us imagine for a moment that our lives see us each as sailors, sharing sailing boats. Onto the high seas we go, seeking education, meaningful work, close relationships, and ultimately, peace.

At the end of each day, we pull up anchor, hopefully at port, where we can share a meal. We regale each other with tales of the particularities of what we experienced at sea. Sleep helps us prepare for the fresh day that awaits us.

If we stay on the high seas for too long without returning to the reassurance of land, we may burn out and lose motivation, closing in on ourselves. We may overreact to the storms that come and go. We may not appreciate our coworkers, chief among them the Spirit with whom we cooperate in living full lives.

One gift we all need from time to time is the listening ear of another – friends, family member, colleague, counsellor, spiritual director or health professional. It is in being listened to that we speak the words we might otherwise keep inside. In being listened to, we learn to listen to the deeper soundings of our own and others’ experiences. With practice we begin to find meaning and insight there.

In the last few years, the practice of mindful meditation has gone vogue. There are apps such as Smiling Mind, there are classes, and psychology is on board too. What was previously dismissed as matter for eastern gurus has come to the aid of a seafaring west. Whether this meditation focuses on breath, thoughts or emotions, each seeks to calm the mind and centre oneself in the present moment.

How easy it is to forget that pausing in silence is part of our western inheritance. As writer and Benedictine monk Thomas Merton wrote, ‘Christianity is a religion of the Word. The Word is Love. But we sometimes forget that the Word emerges first of all from silence.’

If we attend to the silence, we can appreciate the Word spoken into it. Listening to the quiet rest beats allows us to savour the music which rises out of it. Let us enjoy the quiet breeze, in order to prepare for the challenges of the storm.

We also need to be able to discern when to put up our sails and when to use the motor. This calls for a sensitivity to the weather, to the helpful breeze and the harsh sun, to the radar and the movements of the birds.

Silence in mindfulness and listening to loud music while exercising are two interesting parallel experiences in our society. There’s a key question here about whether in our moments of silence or music listening we are seeking to forget our day or rest in gratitude for it. Are your thoughts and emotions distractions or precious gifts worth pondering?

Here the varying mindfulness traditions offer different types of responses. Popular today is eastern mindful meditation which may return one’s attention to the breath, for instance. For Christians there are the practices of the awareness examen in the Ignatian tradition, or the Christian Meditation of the late John Main now taught by his Benedictine confrere Laurence Freeman.

These have us resting mindfully in God’s presence. The first seeks to engage with the content of one’s day by remembering all that has happened in a spirit of gratitude, attending to the movements within. The second seeks to focus one’s attention on a mantra, returning always to a word or phrase chosen by the meditator. Examples include the Aramaic ‘Maranatha’ popularised by the Australian Christian Meditation Community, or the ‘Jesus Prayer’ (which former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams practises).

These diverse traditions of mindfulness can assist us to introduce a rhythm to our days. They can help us gather the spiritual sustenance we need to live full lives. They can be like an anchor on life’s sea of joys and anxieties in this age of increased ‘national security’ tension in our community and world in general.

For the Christian, there’s rest in Word and Sacrament. But full engagement is linked to the extent to which we place habits of being into our days. To recall Merton, ‘we sometimes forget that the Word emerges first of all from silence.’ Whoever we are, no matter how busy, it may be time to find a comfortable place, stop, and receive sustenance for the onward voyage on the high seas. Imagine that.


James O'Brien is studying English Literature at the University of Sydney.

Topic tags: James O'Brien, national security, meditation, mindfulness, Thomas Merton, Tony Abbott



submit a comment

Existing comments

A timely reminder for coping with the stresses of modern life in Western society, ie the current, often politically motivated fear mongering; economic progress accepted as the raisin d'être for people's existence; sensuality a pervasive presence in our dealings with each other; the vacuum in values that lack of belief in God has created. We swim in polluted waters ... no wonder the mental health of the community is fragile. We need to deal with the underlying structures of our present society, as well as finding ways of managing the unhealthy state of affairs in which we find ourselves ... a huge task.

Helga Jones | 03 March 2015  

An excellent article. One contribution to bringing this stillness into life from a Christian perspective is the pioneering work of the late Dom Jean-Marie Dechanet OSB in integrating Yoga within the Christian framework. http://christianspracticingyoga.com/wp/spirituality-of-the-body/father-jean-marie-dechanet/ He has his detractors and critics within the Catholic Church but I think his work perfectly valid and acceptable. Interestingly, he corresponded with the late Thomas Merton on a number of issues. There is quite a wide network in this field. I think it is sometimes difficult at first to integrate some seemingly "exotic" practices from Hinduism (the Christian mantra a la John Main) ; Mindfulness (Theravada Buddhist which comes with a strong religious-ethical background which may not neatly transfer across to an Incarnational Christian perspective) or even Orthodox Christianity (the Jesus Prayer - I believe there are some theological problems the Catholic Church would have with the concept of "theosis") into a Western Christian perspective. Nevertheless, I think it is possible. The proven medical benefits of Yoga, Mindfulness and the secular meditation practices of the late Dr Ainslie Meares of Melbourne, as well as Orthodox spirituality (including the Jesus Prayer) are enough to recommend a sensible investigation by a intelligent, knowledgeable Western Christian.

Edward Fido | 03 March 2015  

Thank you James for this timely reminder for all who meditate. This year we celebrate the 5th Centenary of the birth of Teresa of Jesus [ Avila] 28th March 1515 - first woman Doctor of the Church whose teachings on prayerful meditation and the joys of friendship are renowned. We all need to stop and rest in His presence to appreciate the now. There are so many riches in the spirituality of our christian churches that are 'best kept secrets' - we need to spread the word from the roof tops.

Lorraine Murphy ocds | 03 March 2015  

Great,timely article.St Benedict's Monastery,Arcadia has Meditation Introduction & Renewal Days 17 May, 16 August,18 Nov. in 2015 10.00am for 10.30am See www.christianmeditationaustralia.org A gift from the generous Benedictines.

Peter | 03 March 2015  

I find your article both relevant and helpful. And just in fun I would rather drop anchor than "pull up anchor" at the end of the day! M.

Mahdi | 04 March 2015  

You have no idea how helpful this has been for me at this time in my life. Thank you.

Carmel | 06 March 2015  

Desert sands and stubborn hearts remind us of Moses and band of wandering stiff-necks. Presidents, Prime Ministers come and go. Yet. After decades of wrecking havoc and bombs; painting the ancient sands with blood, the cry is still "They come"! If there is another voice we cannot hear it.

roy Fanthome | 06 March 2015  

Excellent reminder. Thank you so much.

Sherida Carrick | 09 March 2015  

Re: Ainslie Meares mentioned above. Meares always maintained that his method was non-religious and non-sectarian. He said that patients told him that meditation seemed to improve their ability to pray. Meares books have been available second hand since he passed in 1986 but there is now, in 2017, a new book all about the man and his method. "Ainslie Meares on Meditation" available from internet retailers and book sellers includes a biography of Meares, Relief without Drugs (distilled version), the refined final meditation method, samples of his poetry etc. cheers OB

ob | 23 April 2017