Mindful Pauses in a Cross Cultural Society

Mindful Pauses in a Cross Cultural Society

I was recently talking to an Iman about the regular prayer sessions held daily in a local mosque. Describing how men would come to participate in prayer, or Salah, at set times, 5 times a day, as often as they were able, something in particular he said about the benefits of a commitment to such an act helping the participant to live in accordance with the teachings of Islam, and the resulting connectedness of Muslims who were participating all facing the same way for the same purpose providing a sense of belonging- made me think.

I began to relate to how spending regular appointed time in prayer could prevent the mind and body from catastrophizing, distracting and ruminating, and was so similar to the practise of mindfulness which can also support the mind and body to focus, live in the moment, and appreciate what we have.

Chanting, praying, deliberate repeated physical, mindful movement, can relax and calm the body and mind, nourishing our soul, developing and promoting compassion, helping us to centre into our being and our body rather than living in our busy heads, constantly thinking about then, now, when.

I have often read or talked about the notion of mindfulness being introduced in schools from an early age as a tool for young people to learn how to manage stress and difficulty.

Now I am not exactly what I would call old, but even I remember attending schools as a child where every morning an assembly, and even a lunchtime began with a prayer or silent moment of thanks or acknowledgment. This Iman spoke about how young children in this particular Muslim community  were taught how to pray, often by the females in the household, as a part of their routine from an early age.

These days, western assemblies in cross cultural schools are more likely to be generic, reflecting their diverse classes with lively themes and catchy fun songs. There are of course still schools and communities that are predominantly of a particular religion, and in these, more regular traditional practise may be adhered to. Most religions have practises that resonate closely with and include aspects of mindfulness, it was just, for me, in that moment, the Iman prompted a reflection of my own experience.

Increasingly children move through their days with packed syllabuses and with teachers who have criteria to meet, often continuing into the evening with after school clubs or further planned activities. Adults move through their day with 24/7 seemingly endless busy social media and work or home commitments that don’t let up unto late evening even often sleeping next to their charging devices ready for another day.

There is, perhaps, less time for natural pause and reflection, acknowledgment, a shared communal silence in an increasingly varied cultural environment.

Which is why, for a moment, I felt fortunate to be granted an insight into this practise of regular prayer and common purpose, and feel the sense of community and connection within this mosque.

I wonder if we are missing something in this developing western society. Can we all continue on our paths of individualism, different beliefs and purpose, but still find time to stop, and connect, find a commonality in our human-ness and our need to feel safe, connected, centred, calm, supported by something bigger than ourselves, whatever that might be or mean to each of us? Accepting each other, as we are, without judgement, with compassion, in any one moment, if we do not already have the regular practise of a given moment.

Could mindfulness be a way of helping us to do that?

I have sometimes heard it being wondered if mindfulness is a Buddhist practise. But actually, it is not rooted in religion. It is a tool, that has been used by many religions, and can be used by anyone, of any denomination or none, to truly live in, and experience each moment as it is, to be fully present, and give each moment your full attention so far as is possible, without judgement- to promote greater clarity of of life- just as it is- in this moment.

I was reminded, when attending an eight week mindfulness based cognitive therapy course some years ago, that the facilitator said to a then disbelieving me ‘Tania, there is always time in the day to build in a three minute breathing space’ . I honestly believed in that moment that there was absolutely no time for such a thing. With a turnaround of sometimes just 5 minutes between appointments- how could I ‘waste’ 3 of those on just breathing- and conversely- how would just three minutes be of any use! Even if I were to try such as suggestion- how would I even remember to do it! My days were often so busy I would forget there was even such a thing as mindfulness.

So listening to the Iman, and revisiting the concept of regular, set times for pauses, and daily prayer reminded me of this early dilemma in my on mindfulness practise- and how the key to developing my own mindfulness meditation was to make a regular time and build it into my routine. Everyone will find their own way. I tried writing it in my diary- building tinkling chimes into my phone as reminders, but in the end- for me- first thing in the morning and last thing at night- with additional practises on extra busy or challenging days seems to work.

Attending a later course for teaching mindfulness to others, I acquired a red bead on a black thread bracelet from the facilitator- a tool which I practised using with other attendees. The bracelet, an in particular the bead was to connect mindfulness practitioners. That wherever you are in the world, whatever time it is, you may touch your bead, and feel grounded and connected to other, likeminded individuals. A sense of community, connectedness, belonging and support.

I am grateful for the opportunity to self fund and attend such training, however I am aware that we don’t all have a religion, or access to a course to attend that might teach us the value of checking in with ourselves, and the world through regular reflection, however the benefits are perhaps universal, cross- cultural, and, in my opinion, definitely worth the pause.


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