A major issue highlighted in a recent WSJ article is job stress. They say that job pressures are the No. 2 cause of stress after financial worries. Many companies are taking action to address this issue using what are termed "Mindfulness-based tress reduction" programs like those developed at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.
The essence of these programs is training in the use of mindfulness meditation. This is an approach of training the mind to become aware of the present moment without trying to judge or strive. There is what they call formal and informal practice. The formal is private time sitting in meditation and the informal is carrying this practice into our daily life. The research shows that these programs can effectively deal with many psychological symptoms such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety and other medical issues. They show that it increases one's ability to relax, increases energy and enthusiasm for life, enhances self-esteem and an increases ability to cope with both short and long-term stressful situations.
Does this mindfulness process sound familiar?
Orthodox Christians have known of such an approach for thousands of years, but it is one which has even more power because it is based on faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." This ancient prayer also involves formal and informal practice. The formal leads to the informal.
This not just a prayer for stress reduction or self-improvement, but is much more. The Church Fathers tell us that it is essential for our spiritual growth and that such a prayer practice helps us learn how to cooperate with God for our salvation. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom says the "more than any other" prayer, it helps us to cultivate the ability to "stand in God's presence." With humility this prayer has power because we are calling on Jesus Christ for mercy.
When one makes a practice of praying this prayer over and over each day, praying for one half an hour daily, the prayer eventually becomes part of our being and then is always in our heart and mind. When we have cultivated this prayer over a period of time, then, when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, the prayer is immediately on our lips bringing God's grace to calm us. It also helps us follow Christ's will in this situation. Instead of simply dealing with stress, we advance our faith in God as we deal with the many stressful situations in our lives. In this way it is much more powerful than any stress reduction technique.
To learn more about the use of the Jesus prayer as part of our daily prayer rule go to our website on Orthodox prayer at OrthodoxPrayer.org. You will find there links to numerous books and articles and videos from our Church Fathers as well as a brief brochure you can download.
Orthodox Christians have a wealth of inner practices that guide us towards a union with God. It is this union we long for. It is our separation from God that is the underlying cause fo all our anxiety and stress. This is all part and parcel of the Orthodox Way of LIfe.
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