Brother Lawrence, a French Carmelite brother who lived in the seventeenth century is best known for his practicing the presence of God–a version of mindful awareness with God at the center. He said that it wasn’t necessary to go to church to be with God. He wrote that we can make our own hearts a place of worship. But he also said that in order to do that we must empty our heart of all other things. Mindfulness is a way to empty our hearts and minds of all other things and make space to listen for the voice of God.

Mindful awareness practices can be done anywhere. Brother Lawrence was famous for practicing presence while doing his kitchen duties. For me the critical piece isn’t where I am or what I am doing, but whether or not I’m paying attention to my immediate experience.

My mind is especially prone to wander when alone–walking down the street, cooking a meal, driving to work. Each time I catch my mind drifting from the present moment and bring attention back, I strengthen the mindfulness muscles in my brain.

Each moment of “failing” to practice mindfulness becomes an opportunity to grow in gracious awareness–another important spiritual skill. No judgement, no condemnation. Just come back to the present moment. Like the Apostle Paul who wrote that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, so mindfulness is strengthened each time we come back to the present moment after having drifted elsewhere.

A short mindful awareness practice I often use when I catch myself¬† judging myself for failing–whether in mindfulness or something else–is the Jesus prayer: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.” It’s a way I practice gracious awareness with myself. It’s a way to empty my heart of inner dissonance and make space for God.