Mindfulness, resilience and the Garden of Gethsemane on World Mental Health Day
A Baptist minister shares what it's like to feel anxious all the time - and what has been helpful in working through it. By Shaun Lambert
Today is World Mental Health Day and I know what it’s like to feel you are falling apart. One of the things I was told as anxiety split my being was that I needed to be more resilient. I already believed that and was beating myself up for feeling anxious all the time. However, what I found out and this is one piece of wisdom I want to pass on today is that just because you suffer from mental health distress does not mean you are not resilient.
Another key piece of wisdom I have learnt is that resilience is not something some people are born with and others are not. So what is it? The best definition I have come across talks about the process of recovery when we hit life’s bumps and learning in that process, and adjusting for future road bumps. Sometimes though life’s events can create such distress that we are overwhelmed.
I have a broken bowl sitting in my study, which has been mended by gold lacquer. It is a form of Japanese pottery called Kintsukoroi or Kintsugi. It is believed the pot is more beautiful for having been broken and repaired than never having been broken at all. One of the contributing factors that glued me back together was mindfulness – both mindfulness for health and mindfulness of God. Research suggests that mindfulness can help enhance our resilience.
One of the narratives in the Bible that helps me persevere is the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). What Jesus models there seems to me to bear a family resemblance to the insights of mindfulness.
For a long time, I tried to avoid the reality that I had anxiety. Mindfulness teaches us to face reality to turn toward it, to name it. Here in the garden Jesus acknowledges his distress: ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ (Mark 14:34). I tried to hide my anxiety from others, I chose silence over honesty to allude to the title of a new book by Patrick Regan which teaches the opposite. Jesus describes his distress to his disciples. Talking to others is an important step in facing the reality of our mental health distress. Here in the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples are not listening, are themselves avoiding reality. They are not able to keep watch as Jesus requests. Part of our calling as disciples is not only to listen to others in their distress but to keep a watch out for it and initiate a helpful conversation.
We can also, like Jesus, in our prayers, express the reality of how we are feeling to God. The psalms can often put into words what we cannot always articulate – but we find a phrase, a prayer that resonates with our inner distress.
Another part of my inner wrestle with anxiety is that I didn’t want to accept that this was what I was feeling. To use an insight from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) I would look at where I wanted to be (free from anxiety) and where I was (riddled with anxiety) and obsess about the gap between the two. This only made matters worse. I had to come to the point of mindful acceptance that this was what I faced right here, right now. That didn’t mean I couldn’t or didn’t work for change. Jesus comes to a point in his prayer in the garden where he accepts the reality that he faces – the task only he can do, the cup he must drink (Mark 14:36).
One of the ideas to come out of stress research that has really helped me, is that we can feel overwhelmed when we perceive or think or feel we don’t have the resources to deal with a stressful situation. Mindfulness shows us that our perceptions are distorted and practising mindfulness can help us see more clearly. For example, I used to think I was an anxious person, and then I realised that I was not an anxious person but that I was having anxious thoughts. I used to think that my anxious thoughts were facts, and then I realised they were just passing mental events. I used to be fused to my anxious thoughts, looking at life from them as if they were the only reality. Mindfulness enabled me to cognitively defuse from my anxious thoughts, to hold them rather than be held by them. I was able to see the stressful events in my life more clearly – I realised I could deal with them. I wonder if Jesus was cognitively fused to his distress in the Garden of Gethsemane and in his time of honesty, acceptance and prayer was able to defuse from the overwhelming feelings of fear – and realise again that paradoxically what he faced would be Good Friday for the world.
Finally, I learnt not to beat myself up with my distorted self-judgements. I began to be able to be self-compassionate as Jesus taught – loving my neighbour and my self. This is a prayer of self-compassion and compassion for others I use daily that I call the Ananias Prayer.
May the love of Christ take hold of me
May the light of Christ shine in my heart
May the love of Christ flow through me like a river.
Pray this prayer today for your own self, but also for your family and friends, for strangers, for those you don’t like, for those in mental health distress, for those caring for those in mental health distress, for all the professionals and others who work in this field of mental health and wellbeing. As you pray may God make you watchful and wakeful, seeing through silence and hiding to distress that may be gently brought into the light.
Hand image | Alexander Lam | Unsplash
 Keye, M.D., Pidgeon, A.M. (2013). An investigation of the relationship between resilience, mindfulness, and academic self-efficacy. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 1(6), 1.
 Keye, 2.
Shaun Lambert is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist as well as being Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church. He is the author of A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness, and Putting on the Wakeful One.
He is organising with others an East Midlands Christian Mindfulness Day on Saturday 2 February 2019, and another National Mindfulness Day for Christians in Scotland 23 March 2018 with Christian Mindfulness.
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