One of the central themes in Don Bosco’s spirituality is the theme of Presence. This Presence has three dimensions, all of which are interconnected: being present to oneself, being present to other people, being present to God. The hinge which enables us to inhabit these dimensions of presence is the hinge of Mindfulness or Awareness.
We are challenged to be aware first of all of ourselves. How am I today? What is going on for me? What is my mood like? What is preoccupying my mind? What is making it difficult for me to be attentive to the here and now?
We are also challenged to be really present to whomever I happen to be with at any given moment, to be attentive to them, really listening to them. Often we can be present to someone in body but our mind can be a hundred miles away. We might find the person boring, maybe we heard their stories several times before. We may consider that we have more important things to think about, things to worry us, things to plan, things to occupy our minds.
And presence also involves being aware that right now, I am immersed in God.
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I climb the heavens you are there,
there too if I lie in the depths of the earth.
If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
your hand would still be guiding me,
your right hand holding me.
Being present to God is really being aware of God’s abiding and loving presence to us. Being thus aware of the beauty of the here and now, the present becomes filled with the awareness of Presence, the presence of the Source, the healing power of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
In his time, to help people maintain this sense of the awareness of God’s presence in the present moment, Don Bosco encouraged his young people and his followers, to pray short prayers at frequent intervals in the day.
He also encouraged frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament, going to the well of presence to be refreshed and renewed by the confidence of God-with-us.
St Mary Mazzarello was also keenly aware of cultivating the awareness of God’s loving presence. When teaching dress-making to young women she would remind them: “Every stitch we make in God’s love”. These teachings are not unlike the teachings of the Gathas, which we find in the Eastern tradition.
A gatha is a little poem or prayer or song, which is repeated at certain times during the day. In some Buddhist monastic traditions, the novitiate year is spent learning various gathas by heart, which can be used at various happenings in the day. For example, the young novice, in the Zen tradition of Plum Village Monastery, learns to start his day with the following gatha:
Waking this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
When brushing my teeth, I may allow myself to be aware of the various uses of my mouth: I give thanks this day for the gift of speech.
May the words I speak today be uplifting and supportive to all.
And may my lips offer the other, a smile of welcome and understanding.
In the monastic tradition there is also a gatha to accompany the sounding of the bell at the beginning of the monks’ meditation:
Listening to the bell, I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve.
My mind becomes calm, my body relaxed.
A smile is born on my lips.
Following the sound of the bell, my breath guides me back
to the safe islands of mindfulness.
In the garden of my heart, the flower of peace blooms beautifully.
We might try to create, to write our own gathas, our own personal prayers or poems which are appropriate to our needs and lifestyle. They offer us a little window of awareness, a chance to refresh our trust in the providence of God whose breath I share, whose heart-beat is the blood which invigorates my life.