By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian Counseling
In the film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Abbe Faria persuades the protagonist to help him dig a tunnel out of the prison by offering him something “priceless.” Edmond scoffs, “My freedom?”
“No, freedom can be taken away, as you well know,” Faria replies. “I offer you my knowledge.”
In a prison where everyone is kept in solitary confinement all day every day, what a prisoner possesses internally is all that is needed to endure the captivity. Surviving is truly a battle of wits.
Mindfulness as a Survival Technique
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores this concept in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. For Csikszentmihalyi flow is the idea of being absorbed by a task. A dancer being caught up in the music, a writer crafting a passage, or an athlete trying for a new personal best. Every part of them is focused on performing this task; they are at one with the attempt. That is flow.
Learning how to engage this process mentally helps people struggle through overwhelming emotions or circumstances. They develop the mental discipline to keep their thoughts from carrying them into chaos. And for those such as Faria and Edmond, it helps them find a way to experience internal peace and joy in the midst of external hopelessness and despair.
How do you develop this internal resource? Csikszentmihalyi suggests finding a healthy pro-social activity that stimulates your mind. Pursuing an interest that requires you to stockpile knowledge enables you to pursue that activity at any time or place. Practicing mindful meditation of doing this activity will help you strengthen your skill set and ground you in a healthy/enjoyable environment. For those in unpleasant circumstances, or who have a tendency toward negative thought patterns, this can also provide a welcome distraction.
Importance of Mindfulness
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts them to develop their minds in the struggle against sin, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:5 NKJV) He was not saying that every thought about something other than spiritual matters is sinful. Rather, pointing out the benefits of a strong, well-focused mind. People who cannot discern for themselves what is right, or avoid the distractions that might pull them away from the Lord, will not make it long as believers and suffer from many instances of doubt. As he says in Ephesians, “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14 NKJV)
For those with thought-based disorders, employing Csikszentmihalyi’s of mental flow may help combat those negative thought patterns. Learning how to manage your thoughts, and distinguish what is illogical, can be an invaluable skill in managing certain conditions. Also, arming yourself with a stockpile of knowledge provides something to turn your thoughts toward when they begin to run away with you. Mindless and automatic thinking patterns often lead to chaos, but mindful awareness and self-directed thinking patterns can redirect you to order and sanity.
“Without the capacity to provide its own information, the mind drifts into randomness. It is within each person’s power to decide whether its order will be restored from the outside, in way over which we have no control, or whether the order will be the result of an internal pattern that grows organically from our skills and knowledge.” (128)
Christian Counseling for Developing Mindfulness
If you struggle with runaway thoughts or lack of focus, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. We can help you understand why your thought patterns behave as they do, and what you can do to redirect them. A Christian counselor will use biblical principles and therapeutic techniques to help you gain control of your thought life.
Both morguefile.com: “Train” by Jusben http://mrg.bz/FN6YaH; “Train set” by JanFromPrague http://mrg.bz/hnE6Q1