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