We live in a time where the word “mindfulness” is popping up more and more frequently. It’s bandied about and passed around carelessly, and I think people use it without understanding what it really means. I think mindfulness has implications for understanding our relationship with God, so I want to get into it a little. I know this could make any potential reader uncomfortable, but I’m going to do a little dive into mindfulness in the context of math–specifically, calculus. I’ll try to explain it in layman’s terms, and keep it as simple as possible.
Calculus is a math discovered and developed in order to calculate and understand the cumulative value of functions that were previously difficult to calculate. That’s a lot of baloney to say this: before calculus, it was difficult to calculate the area under a curve. Straight lines are easy! We can just use geometry and trigonometry–after all, any basic function is just rectangles and triangles. Any time a power of two or greater is added, however, and a non-geometric curve is introduced, the math becomes decidedly harder.
The main principle of calculus is this: hard math is hard, and let’s make hard math easier by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s not hard anymore. Think of a positive-value-only graph–everything to the right of the Y-axis, and everything above the X-axis. Now imagine a simple curve on that graph, like below. (As a side-note, please excuse my very crude illustrations–I don’t have access to a decent graphics editor right this minute.)
Using simple geometry, it would be very difficult to calculate the area under the curve. But if we break it down into vertical chunks, we can get an approximation.
This is not a good approximation–in fact, it’s quite bad. But if we take smaller vertical slices, it starts to look a little better.
Let’s take it one step further for the purpose of this illustration:
Now we’re getting somewhere. Our rough estimate becomes more and more meaningful, the thinner the slice we take. Said another way, as the vertical slice we’re using to measure the curve becomes more defined, the directionality of the curve itself becomes less and less meaningful. That is the entire point of calculus! All the fancy math and formulas obscure the point to a degree that most people have no idea how calculus works, but when you boil it down to it’s simplest concept, anyone can get it: Calculate the area under a curve using slices so thin that their widths approach zero, and you will have a great approximation of the meaning of the curve.
Here’s where I’m going with this: that is also the exact purpose of mindfulness. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future make the slice of what we are observing too wide, and we are unable to find the meaning of the curve of our own path. The directionality of that curve matters too much, and it can affect how we feel and think. By making that slice of our life thinner and thinner, we start to appreciate the moment, and we can more accurately understand what that moment means to us.
I think a lot of people consider mindfulness to be an Eastern philosophy, and therefore mutually exclusive from the idea of Christianity. I disagree. God wants us to be happy, and bask in the sunshine (literal and metaphorical) in every possible moment. Solomon the wise writes in Ecclesiastes: “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).