Mindfulness for what purpose?

by | May 12, 2020

Rev. John Merz is an Episcopal minister in Brooklyn, NY, and he is the founder of the North Brooklyn Angels.

No, the North Brooklyn Angels is not a baseball team. These angels think of themselves as “neighbors helping neighbors.” A number of years ago Rev. John and friends were concerned about the impacts of gentrification in this major New York City borough. Yes, there was needed investment and revitalization going on in Brooklyn, which often has been seen as the poor cousin of Manhattan. Brooklyn was starting to attract more professionals, arts organizations, bookstores, restaurants, etc. All this was good.

However, it was also creating– shall we say– “urban removal” and two parallel universes in Brooklyn. People from one universe had very little to do with people from the other universe. This was not so good in Rev. Jim’s eyes.

He felt it was important to have a non-profit organization to increase the contacts between these two different worlds, and this led to the creation of the North Brooklyn Angels. The organization and volunteers are known for their large blue truck, which comes to different parts of Brooklyn with food, other items, and some key services.

Rev. John has seen a rapid escalation in the demand for, and interest in, North Brooklyn Angels since the start of the pandemic– both more people needing things like food and more people interested in volunteering. He estimates that the rise in demand since the pandemic started is over 80 percent. “The need is great, and we are seeing a change in the nature of the people and families seeking our services.” he adds.

Rev. John points out that the word “pandemic” comes from “pertaining to all, and it has shown us how inter-connected we all are.” He also raises some difficult questions, which I think we in Unity should face. For example, he notes that Brooklyn– as well as many other places in America– has seen the rise of the “spiritual but not religious,” and meditation and yoga centers, etc.

“I am not knocking this, and it can be very positive,” he says. “But I want to ask folks, ‘You are increasing your mindfulness; but for what purpose? Is it just for self-actualization and individual gain, or is it to serve and be part of a larger purpose? Are you part of something beyond your individual ego? Is this mindfulness beyond just feeling good on an individual level?'”

I believe in recent years the Unity movement has evolved beyond just mindfulness on the individual level. Unity Worldwide Ministries and others in the Unity movement have been much more active in trying to “build a world that works for all.” I also believe that as folks in the ranks of the “spiritual but not religious” grow they most often experience a hunger that can’t fed if one remains on the individual, or ego, level. There is a real desire to be part of something that is greater than ourselves.

It is important to examine ourselves, and our institutions, to see if we are creating something that can respond to this “greater calling” for mindfulness. Unity is not alone in needing to ask these questions. For example, the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has championed something he calls “Engaged Buddhism.” It is a type of Buddhism that combines meditation with social action. Meanwhile, Father Richard Rohr (who many in New Thought have become interested in) has named his organization the Center of Action and Contemplation.

Rev. John has also been seeing some other disturbing trends in this pandemic. He has noticed an increase in the “fight or flight response” of our older reptilian parts of our brain. He believes that increased mindfulness can help us to speak to this reptilian part of our brain and say, “I know you are there. I am aware of you, but I need you to settle down now so that I can make decisions by using all parts of my mind and soul.”

The purpose of increased mindfulness in not just to bring us satisfaction on the individual level. Increased mindfulness can connect us to something beyond ourselves and help us listen to “that still, small voice.” We will need this as we go through this pandemic.