Can There Be a Catholic “Mindfulness?”

There’s an increasing spiritual danger in redefining a word such as mindfulness. At base level, we think being mindful is awareness or attunement to the moment at hand. At quick glance in any dictionary, it’s clear that mindfulness has no spiritual implications; it’s “the state of being conscious or aware of something” or “focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.”[i]

It sounds benign, but the word – and practice – of mindfulness has been hijacked by positive psychologists who want us to believe that it’s a preferred method of reducing or even eliminating anxiety.

Modern psychologists have been researching mindfulness techniques since the 1970s. Everything from depression to anxiety, psychosis to drug addiction, can be treated, with some degree of efficacy, using mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions. What’s the problem with it, if it seems to be helping people? Don’t we all want to reduce the level of stress and worry in our lives?

The caution with mindfulness is threefold at the very least. One could plausibly supply a more thorough investigation, but this is what I’ve unraveled so far regarding serious flaws with current uses of mindfulness techniques.

Secular Psychology Neglects and Rejects the Soul

If we simply look at secular psychology as a whole, we can determine that the worldview of a psychologist is to place humanity in the box of empiricism. This means we are reduced to the scientific process when managing our emotions or behaviors or understanding underlying brain pathologies.

If people are merely composed of matter, it means that there is a lack of holistic understanding among those in psychological professions to see the reality of the soul – that immortal aspect of each person that is created in God’s image and likeness.[ii]

Since God is rarely considered when a person seeks counseling, the therapist likely won’t believe that sin exists or that the person should feel guilty for his or her sins. In turn, nearly every behavior and choice has become acceptable or tolerable among those in the profession. The interventions they use reflect their beliefs, mindfulness included.

Mindfulness Is Rooted in Eastern Mysticism

We have to be careful when presuming that every activity in our world can be “christened” so as to become Christianized in some way, especially when these are inherent spiritual practices that are rooted in pagan or even diabolic religious beliefs. The media and counseling professionals present mindfulness as dramatically changing one’s psyche from fear to peace.

Does the means justify the end, though? When I was digging for more information on mindfulness, I discovered this very telling definition: “In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually lead to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering.”[iii]

We learn a few stark realities from this simple sentence alone: 1) It’s rooted in Buddhism; 2) It’s designed to help the person reach self-knowledge without ultimately leading one to God; and 3) The ultimate goal of mindfulness is to release the person from the ‘burden’ of suffering.

It’s very clear that this is not the route we want to take as Catholic-Christians. First, we cannot baptize this practice when it is so obviously rooted in Eastern mysticism. Second, growing in self-knowledge is a noble and worthy goal if we are striving to grow closer to God – but mindfulness practices omit this very, very critical component. Finally, the rejection of suffering is the rejection of the Cross, which is our means of sanctification and salvation.

Modern Therapeutic Practices Focus on the Self, Not God

As mentioned in the previous section, the intention of mindfulness interventions is to lead a person to greater knowledge of self and deeper wisdom. When used to identify defects, vices, and sins, self-knowledge is essential for our spiritual well-being. We cannot root out what prevents us from closer union with God if we do not introspect on a daily basis.

But mindfulness, like many Eastern spiritual practices, often leads the self to the self, not God. There is no personal God nor personal religious beliefs, and therefore, no reason for a person to meditate on any spiritual truth related to the Triune God.

It seems that the shift from Christocentrism to egocentrism has gradually evolved over the past several decades, mainly when the “self-esteem” movement gained widespread popularity in the 1970s (alongside the mindfulness movement in Western culture). Every good gift comes from God, not from ourselves or our own efforts. The real work, the arduous work, involves an act of the will – to allow God to chisel away at our defects, to prune us so as to purify us.

We are made whole by way of holiness.

***

(In the next article, I will offer practical ways we can lessen our fears and anxieties through authentic gratitude.)

[i] Retrieved April 5, 2018 from Google search and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness

[ii] Retrieved March 15, 2018 from https://youtu.be/DnVG5yiaO7k – The Dangers of Modern Psychology by Fr. Chad Ripperger.

[iii] Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.

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  • Howard

    Christian mindfulness, as described by St. Basil the Great:

    When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.

  • Psyche

    I thank God for my mindfulness practice. It has done nothing but lead me closer to Him.

  • Pax

    yes, and while therapeutically similar in value , it is almost an entirely different mental process then what is normally called ‘mindfulness’. Basil’s description is about being aware of the reality you are utterly dependent on God. It is about experiencing ones absolute helplessness and dependence on God with thankfulness. It contains no desire to escape suffering, may even allow for ’embracing our cross’ with love and thankfulness. It is referential entirely to God and relies on none of my own power.

    In other words, it can’t be taught to or done by an atheist and isn’t legal to be taught in public schools.

    Basil’s method leads to quality of humility and peace that cannot be attained without the help of God. There is no amount of personal effort and time that can allow one to reach christian mindfulness. It also, leads to much greater happiness and self fulfillment then anything modern psychology can offer, because Basil’s mindfulness is rooted in a faith in an mortal and loving father who is Given thanks for all things even one’s own pain and death.

  • Howard

    No, I get it, but I think it’s important to understand that the most seductive errors have to come close to some truth. The truth in this case is that being distracted by noise is a bad thing, and we should concentrate on what is real and important. The error lies in misidentifying what is real and important.

  • Howard

    Do you mean Pelagianism? Your last word looks suspiciously like an autocorrect.

  • Pax

    sorry yes.

  • Pax

    yes, i think one of the problems , of human communication in general, and catholic apologetic more specifically is the natural fluidity of language. Have you ever had the ‘to Muslims worship the same God’ discussion. The answer is really yes and no , or rather they both worship ‘ the God of Abraham’ but have very different idea’s about the nature of that God, so much to the point that it is difficult to say they are both talking about the same thing. Kind of like if two people talk about a vehicle and then you realize one is taking about an airplane and the other a boat. There is something of the same problem here. Mindfulness , in the way it is commonly talked about in secular society is so far from catholic mindfulness of God that it is hard to even call them the same word, even though at the heart they do have a certain commonality.

  • Pax

    I’m sure there are Muslims and Hindu’s and Buddhist that say the same thing, Weather it is true in your case would require an examination of your concept of God. As much as God is absolute love, so is he absolute truth , so right belief is as much or more important in relationship to God as right feelings.

  • JD Foerster

    I totally agree. And the way it is being taught to me is far more Catholic than anything I encountered in my years in seminary/religious formation. It is actually integrating my physical, psychological, and spiritual life into one life lived in, with, and for Jesus Christ. I also recommend the book The Mindful Catholic to anyone who doubts this very Christian practice.

  • Psyche

    I’m currently reading The Mindful Catholic. It’s excellent!

  • Pax

    I don’t know. you should be very careful you are not worshiping an idol of your own making.

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/01/07/catholicism-and-mindfulness-compatible-practices-or-contrary-spiritualities/

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/apologist-warns-catholics-about-dangers-of-mindfulness

    comments here by the the author of a book on catholic ‘mindfulness’ as I said in another place, this is can be an issue of terminology. There are many types of vehicles and they are used for different purposes. ‘midfulness’ if it can be used as part of catholic spirituality would be as different as an airplane is from a submarine although both are vehicles and both might get you across the ocean. ( only one will take the high road and get you over land).

  • Gregory Bottaro

    Hi Jeannie, not sure if you’ve seen my work, but here’s an article I’ve written to answer some of these concerns. https://catholicpsych.com/the-catholic-guide-to-mindfulness-or-coffee-satans-drink/. I am a Catholic psychologist, not a secular one (In fact I’ve written articles here for Catholic Exchange). I do share your concern that people may be mislead by the wrong kind of Mindfulness practice. That’s why I wrote The Mindful Catholic.

  • Joe Appleman

    I am glad you found this article. I am planning to get your book. Hey we Catholics actualy invented mindfulness anyway ,right?

  • Jerome Bierwagen

    @Cher, you completely miss the point of the article. The article examines the basis for ‘mindfulness’ as embraced by modern psychology; not drawing sophomoric comparisons that equate ideas at simply a physical word level. In fact it cautions against just such easily made explanations as justifications that are usually and easily served up by ‘pop’ psychology to be easily consumed by our baseless ‘information’ society.

  • DLink

    We used to call this “navel gazing”. Seems only the name has changed.

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