One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far in other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings. – Brother Lawrence, (an excerpt from The Practice of the Presence)
Often the greatest obstacles to experiencing the divine presence in our everyday lives are distractions. When we get distracted, brother Lawrence urges us to avoid becoming discouraged, and to refocus our attention towards seeking a state of divine tranquillity.
Ignoring distractions and remaining focused, however, is no easy task. Something which has helped me personally to ignore distractions and to be fully engaged with God, others, and my environment is the practice of mindfulness. For me, practising mindfulness means engaging with the world around me by fully utilising my senses. Consider, for example, the practice of appreciating a fine wine.
First, as you say or hear the name or type of wine you are about to enjoy you engage your sense of hearing. Perhaps a sense of anticipation ensues.
Second, as you pick up the wine glass in your hand you can appreciate the feeling of the glass between your fingers.
Third, you engage your sight as you hold the glass up to the light and appreciate the colour and opacity of the wine.
Fourth, you smell the wine.
Fifth, as you take your first sip of wine you begin to engage your sense of taste.
As you continue enjoying your glass of wine you toggle between each of your five senses, enjoying and appreciating the wine from every possible angle, just you might examine the many facets of a single diamond.
You can also practice mindfulness, and therefore enjoy the presence of God in any task. In The Practice of the Presence, Brother Lawrence explains that he often experienced the presence of God more powerfully in his mundane everyday tasks than in his scheduled prayer times. A mundane task such as washing dishes can be transformed into a life-giving spiritual encounter by simply practicing mindfulness.
What can you see?
How does the warm, soapy water feel?
How do the plates feel in your hands?
What can you hear?
What can you smell?
Perhaps you can taste the meal you’ve just eaten still lingering in your mouth.
As you practice mindfulness throughout different tasks you will find your ability to engage with God, others, and the world around you improve. At this stage some may object that I am confusing human emotions and experiences with God. My response would be that any experience of the divine must come through our mortal experience because we are, after all, mortal. I suspect that most people dismiss genuine divine encounters as simply emotional hype. We cannot, however, separate the physical and the spiritual world into a neat dichotomy. As one of our own poets has said, “it is within the divine that we live, move, and have our being.” Once this concept is grasped nothing can be viewed as common because everything becomes sacred.
In my own experience, mindfulness has helped me disassociate from distracting thoughts and feelings, and to be fully present, enabling me to appreciate God, others, and the world around me in whole new way. I hope the practice of mindfulness will be as helpful to your journey of experiencing true life as it has been to mine.