With spring officially upon us, it is a fitting time to practice new ways to grow. Hildegard von Bingen believed the turning of the spring season to be a particularly good time for a fast or cleanse. Like most self-directed regimens, the benefits of periodic fasting and cleansing are greatly enhanced by our level of awareness.
The same can be said about our ability to engage with what Hildegard called Viriditas, ‘the greening power of the divine’ – or ‘the healing power of green.’ Hildegard believed in the unifying power of the divine as reflected through growth. The “greening” in nature serves as a symbol of spiritual and physical health and reflection the divine in nature.
Hildegard saw the visual imagery of lushness and fecundity in nature as a constant reminder of the divine power and our interconnectivity. She also considered viriditas a gateway through which we could engage this power; the greening is not just symbolic, but rather, a means of experience – a state of being that we are supposed to pursue.
Spring reminds us of viriditas
Since the landscape is bursting with the greening of new life and activity, we think spring is also a perfect time to work on engaging more deeply in our natural environment as a means to improve our health, grow closer to our world – and each other, and to ignite the green flame of our spirit.
To this end, we will introduce an ancient concept, something that was likely an integral part of Hildegard’s notion of Viriditas: the state of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness hinges on our awareness, specifically, our ability to be present in the moment as it is happening. Ideally, our practice of mindfulness exercises becomes a part of our nature. As we practice this awareness, with intention, in the moments that string together to make our daily lives, it becomes not a ‘thing’ to be done, but a way of being.
The culmination of our intention, our focused awareness, and our nonjudgmental emotional response make mindfulness exercises a powerful tool in self-regulation. But just as Hildegard envisioned viriditas as both a symbol and a means to something greater, mindfulness exercises have the potential to transcend mere utility toward spiritual enlightenment.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Exercises
The practice of this intentional awareness of experience has been part of cultures far and wide for thousands of years. Ancient spiritual and cultural wisdom included a variety of mindfulness exercises to sustain wellness, foster personal and spiritual growth, and to prevent and recover from illness.
Many of these practices remain central to religious, spiritual, and cultural movements around the globe. Common mindful awareness practices include mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, chanting, and prayer.
Arguably the oldest and most widely known notion of mindfulness comes from Buddhism. Buddha, which in literal terms means “the awakened one” in Sanskrit, relies on mindfulness as a foundation from which enlightenment is pursued. But short of that, mindfulness is how we come to terms with reality, known as the “three marks of existence”, or suffering, impermanence, and insight.
Accepting suffering through mindfulness
Through mindfulness we accept reality as it is, not as we desire it to be. We suffer, Buddhists believe, because we misunderstand reality. Through mindfulness exercises we can begin to see a deeper reality and witness impermanence without fear, anger or despair.
Insight of truth and reality is accomplished by being mindful of the “four Foundations”, four key things: our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and phenomena (the world around us). Though practicing mindfulness of these four foundations, we develop an increasingly clear understanding of how these things really are that is outside our conceptual ideas of them.
Secular applications of mindfulness follow a similar notion. Pursuing mindfulness means to cultivate your attention in such a way that you struggle less, have more joy, and engage others with greater skill and comfort.
Further, modern approaches to secular mindfulness are proving to be more than just interpersonal and spiritual tools; there is mounting evidence that mindfulness exercises can result in significant psychological and physical health benefits.Recently, science has been confirming the health benefits of mindfulness exercises. Research has shown mindfulness to significantly improve both psychological and physiological well-being.
Chronic pain, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and general anxiety disorders have all been improved through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness has also been shown to prevent illnesses by improving cognitive function, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and strengthening the immune system.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
The modern study of mindfulness arose from the Buddhist-inspired program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In the late 1970’s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a microbiology Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, began applying the basic principles of mindfulness meditation to patients at the UMass Medical Center.
Through his applied research, he discovered that these techniques were effective in reducing chronic pain symptoms and suffering associated with debilitating conditions. This work, based on the techniques borrowed from the Buddhist practice of meditation, would eventually become MBSR, although his approach is purely secular.The practice of carefully focused attention is the common foundation of all of the ancient practices involving mindfulness. While it can be found in all religious belief systems, it is not attributable to any particular one, nor does it necessarily conflict with one. Of course, we believe that Hildegard presumed mindfulness as the means to pursue viriditas, so begin you mindful practice today and get your green on this spring.
Your Mindfulness Exercises
When considering your practice, there are five conditions that comprise the state of mindfulness:
A kind of awareness of our inner experience that involves perceiving our feelings and emotions as they happen, without having to react to them.
Acknowledging our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings and remaining present with them even if they are unpleasant or painful. Allowing our sensations to exist, but not giving in to them.
Being aware of our actions as we move through them; concentration and lack of distraction through focused intention.
Being able to apply words to our beliefs, opinions, expectations, and feelings.
Quieting our inner critic. Understanding that irrational or inappropriate emotions will happen, thus freeing us of self-judgment relating to our experiences.
Building the Skill of Mindsight
Being mindful is a skill. It takes practice. Like learning any new skill, you will feel awkward at first. Be prepared, as you begin mindfulness exercises you may find yourself putting up resistance. If you are meeting resistance, you are likely on the right track.
Acquiring an objective eye into our own mind – in the moment – is no easy task. Our inner critic and all of the other guardians of our ego are not inclined to just take their pink-slips and slink away. They will make a fuss. But being mindful also means you are fine with that; you understand what is happening because you are noticing it as it is happening. You are also aware, non-reactive, non-judgmental, and able to describe these things with a clear mind.
Whether it is yoga, a Hildegard-inspired dynamic meditation, or just a few small, intentional changes to become more present and aware, building mindfulness can be a powerful tool in engaging your natural brain plasticity to cultivate a better you. And it might just lead you to experience viriditas, as Hildegard intended.
Daily Minfulness Exercises
Below we’ve included some ways to help incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Mindfulness may not come quickly or easily, but these will help you on your journey.
- Slow down. Ask yourself if you really need to be in a hurry. Find a small way each day to purposefully do something a bit slower and more thoughtfully.
- Turn off your phone. Set aside some time each day to be truly disconnected from technology. Put your phone away when spending time with loved ones.
- Listen to music. Take a few minutes each day to enjoy music for its own sake.
- Take a short walk (walk in the woods or walking after dinner). Take a daily walk alone with your thoughts.
- Find gratitude. End each day by taking a moment to you find three things that day for which you are grateful.
- Breathe. Take a few minutes each day to sit down and take deep breaths. Reign in your wandering mind by focusing only on your breaths.
- Create a specific window(s) of time in which you check your email. Avoid the distractions of constant email monitoring.
- Turn daily tasks into mindful moments. Be present and attentive, pay attention to how you make coffee, shower, etc. and examine what those regular tasks really entail.
- Create. Find ways to incorporate creative time into your day. Whether it is baking or doodling or sewing, find ways to engage in the creative process.
- Go outside. Walk or sit in nature.
- Unitask. Avoid the trappings of multitasking. Instead, clear your desk and your mind of all but the task at hand. Focus on that. Take short breaks to regain your focus.
- Be mindful about what you are eating.
- Get sleep