16 Jan Abundant Fruit of Catholic Mindfulness
A Tree is Known by its Fruit ~Luke 6:43
[Guest Post by CPI therapist Maureen O’Connell]
How often do you delete marketing emails? If you’re like me about five per day. I feel like I’m constantly unsubscribing myself from marketing lists that I never even signed up for. And constantly deleting emails that I never even open! So when I received Dr. Greg’s email back in September 2016 announcing his new Catholic Mindfulness course, I was tempted toward my usual–delete. But the subject line caught me, “Find Peace with Catholic Mindfulness.“ Peace? Mindfulness? Catholic mindfulness? What?! I had to at least open it and check it out.
That one choice to open that one email has brought abundant fruit not only in my own life but in the lives of many Catholics I know. So much fruit I can’t count. Like the disciples’ nets. Fruit that is bursting and ripping my net. So much fruit that I asked Dr. Greg if I could write a testimony and share some of the ways Catholic Mindfulness has blessed me. As a busy mother of four young children and a part-time therapist, it is nearly impossible to find time to focus and write. I could be doing a million other things right now. As I write, it’s crazy loud in here with kids off from school. They are running around me, interrupting with all sorts of questions. One is sitting next to me doing a Rubik’s cube! I’m so tempted to think I don’t have time for this. But I have to write and share the story of why Catholic Mindfulness means so much to me and how it has made my life more fruitful than before.
After I read the description of the course, I thought wow that sounds awesome. And then I thought I don’t have time to take an eight week course! So I closed the email and moved onto other things. Over the next couple days I could not stop thinking about what I had read, ” Instead of letting your life slip past you, unaware of many of the things that are happening, God wants you fully alive”… “Mindfulness has been proven to treat clinical depression and anxiety disorders, scrupulosity, addictions including sexual addictions, and even relationship issues such as marital difficulties”… “Mindfulness helps to control the wandering mind, and Catholic spirituality grounds this process on the path towards holiness and true happiness. It’s possible to have peace because we have a Father we can trust.” AMAZING. Again I thought, but I don’t have time for an eight week course. That’s for someone else. Someone else with one of those disorders. Nice work Dr. Greg, hope it goes well.
But then for the next few days I kept thinking about it and I had peace every time I thought about it. A LOT of peace. After much prayer, I realized God was calling me to take the course! I would have to make time.
I signed up and fortunately my best friend also decided to take it. Thanks to modern technology, even though she lives across the country, we were able to share this life-changing experience together. As we went along we would talk about the incredible changes in our lives. It was truly awesome for both of us! I will share a bit about her story later.
The fruits that have come into my life have been big and small and in-between. I will start with the smaller ones and save the best for last.
The first is a medium size fruit–exercise–physical exercise! One of my weaknesses for years has been insufficient exercise. I would try to get in a routine and then I would get off course and forget about it. Not anymore. Soon after starting regular mindfulness exercise, I began swimming. I would practice being mindful while swimming; noticing how the light reflected off the water, the sounds underneath the water, the cool feel of the water; approaching it with curiosity even though I don’t like to be cold. I went from swimming to exercising twice per week at the gym to now four times weekly. (Finally lost the weight I gained from having four children in five years)!
Another medium size fruit is creativity and problem solving. With young children I have endless problems to solve. From trying to fix things they break, to accomplishing endless housework, to helping them with their daily squabbles I am constantly solving issues. Practicing mindfulness has helped me approach these “problems” very differently. I am so much more creative now and the solutions come to me much faster.
Being present to people is super important to me. I work hard to really listen to others and let them know I hear them. Especially with my family. This has gotten harder to do with each child. When I started the course I was struggling with presence and was so frequently getting distracted (especially by my smartphone). Part of Catholic Mindfulness is learning how to listen better and there are challenges to decrease technology. My ability to be present to others has gotten much better!
Some smaller fruits are things like savoring food and treasuring nature more often. Now I love to bird watch through my kitchen window in the morning with my coffee. Prior to the course I was too busy for these things and was letting them slip by me.
A BIG fruit is my prayer life. Before Catholic Mindfulness I prayed daily and it was a top priority for me. I have always struggled with mind-wandering. But now I notice faster and like St. Therese, I simply return my focus to Jesus without getting upset or losing my peace. I have more precious time with Jesus and our conversations are richer and deeper.
I have much less anxiety and almost no worry. Yes I have “worried thoughts.” But I have trained my brain to operate in a healthier way. Now I recognize the worried thought quickly, let it float away like a leaf floating downstream, and turn my attention back to something else. Like my breath or the person in front of me. This ability to control worry has been extremely timely as my husband took a great but scary risk to leave his full-time job and open his own medical practice. I’ve had lots of opportunities to turn away from worry. I am now freer to practice the spirituality of Catholic mindfulness that invites me to abandon everything to Him. He says, ”Leave the care of your affairs to me and everything will be peaceful.”
I have also seen countless fruits in others’ lives. The friend I mentioned earlier who took the course with me was profoundly blessed with more acceptance in parenting a son with special needs. She went from constant problem-solving mode to having daily moments where she connected with him like never before. She was better able to just be with him and treasure the precious gift of him.
I have also been able to integrate Catholic Mindfulness into my work as a mental health therapist. Many of my clients have taken the course. I have seen people who are very anxious and not sleeping find the fruits of decreased worry, good sleep, and deep peace.
Perhaps one of the biggest fruits was having more peace in the face of great suffering last February. While leading a group at church through Dr. Greg’s course, I experienced a miscarriage. Because I had been exercising my mind to stay in the present and abandon everything to the Father, I was able to do this when faced with suffering I could not understand. Although my grief was like nothing I had ever experienced, I walked through it with much peace and trust. Would I have had peace and trust without Catholic Mindfulness? I believe yes. But my mind stayed far away from anxiety and despair. It wasn’t even on the radar. Instead, I watched while God “took care of everything.” The words I had prayed from our Trustful Surrender Novena came to life before my eyes… “If you say to me take care of it, I will take care of it all; I will console you, I will liberate you and I will guide you.” There is so much more I could write about my miscarriage. I will save that for another blog post.
When I think of Catholic Mindfulness there a couple analogies that come to mind. One is a boat tied to a dock and the other is the GPS function that reroutes our path when off course. Like the boat that can drift or the car that can get off course from its destination, our minds wander constantly and need to be returned to the present. Back to God. For He is only in the present moment. That is where I want to live. With Him, in this present moment. My mind is able to do that better now.
And last but certainly not least, an enormous fruit has been the great blessing and joy of joining Dr. Greg’s team of therapists at CatholicPsych Institute and opening “CPI Raleigh.”
So much fruit. My life is just dripping with abundant, good fruit. My cup overflows.
And the funny thing is I have more time now than ever. Time to open important emails from Dr. Greg.
Thank you Jesus, for the awesome gift of Catholic Mindfulness.
Jesus, I surrender everything to you. I trust you to take care of everything.
Maureen O’Connell is a licensed therapist and Director of CatholicPsych Raleigh. You can read more about her here.