What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a spiritual practice that emerged from Buddhist traditions. It is recommended as a way of dealing with the stresses of life and creating a peaceful climate within school. Some Catholic schools in Ontario have been exploring and using mindfulness in their schools. (e.g Francis Libermann CHS Mindfulness Club)
The F.L.C.H.S. Mindfulness Club is for any and all students who wish to learn about mindfulness practices, such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing. Did you know that breathing deeply through your left nostril for 2 minutes will cause your body to feel a sense of calm, especially if you are experiencing stress, anger or anxiety? Many different techniques can help to bring you calmness, peace and serenity. Libermann students are encouraged to come to a session at least once this school year! -from the TCDSB website
Does mindfulness conflict with Catholicism?
Dr. Gregory Popcakargues that it doesn’t in his Patheos blog. He writes,
Some Catholics who are aware of mindfulness have concerns about it because most psychological writing on mindfulness comes out of a Buddhist tradition. Buddhism is attractive to psychologists because it is an a-theistic religion (i.e., the belief in God is optional for Buddhists, who are chiefly concerned with personal enlightenment). Be that as it may, Catholics have been practicing their own form of mindfulness for 2000 years only we call it, “active contemplation.”
Phil Monroe is a Christian psychologist. He argues regarding mindfulness:
Some might suggest that engaging in practices that encourage openness, neutrality (which is a misrepresentation of Buddhist practices) open oneself up to the occult. Others might be suspicious of hidden, subtle belief systems (personal transformation vs. Spirit-led transformation). These are legitimate questions. And yet I contend that we do not need to reject these concerns to acknowledge that God has given all humans the capacity to observe and grasp concepts that are true and right–even if we might staunchly disagree with their personal philosophies. This does not mean we take a concept into our life and practices without considerable critical thinking, but it does mean we are open to learning something that our own tradition has lost, ignored, or deemed unnecessary to healthy living.
Ernest Larkin O.Carm writes in his article about spiritual practices:
Mindfulness has an Eastern flavor and is practiced there in various styles of yoga and meditation and martial arts. In its Eastern practice it has a different philosophical foundation and a different goal from the Christian form. But the Buddhist practice is transferable to a Christian setting by the simple but immensely important addition of the presence of God. In Buddhist mindfulness the only object is to be totally present to what one is doing. It does not make any reference to God, because Buddhism is non-theistic and has no personal God. The Absolute, the God of the Buddhists, is outside their purview of reality; God is unavailable and totally unknowable, beyond the grasp of the human mind. So Buddhist mindfulness settles for seeking total presence to the moment without distraction or divided attention. We believe that we can learn to be present from this practice, but also to include God in the presence. In this way we are baptizing it for Christian usage. We call it Christian usage. We call it Christian mindfulness.
1. Mindfulness embodies the Christian tokens of love and acceptance.
Mindfulness allows everyone to bask in his or her own faith, belief and wishes — it opens the door to acceptance. It sees beyond the boundaries of religion, race, sex, age. It allows us to see our humanity and the bigger picture things that connects us beyond our titles, beyond our outward appearance, beyond our philosophies and dogmas.
It is a true coming together, a boundless exercise in caring and in the openness of the heart. It allows us to maintain our disagreements; however, in mindfulness we agree to disagree and to somehow find the balance and peace in that.
2. Mindfulness allows Christians to blossom in their faith.
Mindfulness is organic and fluid. It moves and flows with each person who practices it. For example, if you believe that holding a scripture in your mind is the right thing to do instead of focusing on your breath when doing mindful breathing, have at it. If someone focuses on scripture they are indeed bringing the mind to a singular, focused awareness. Excellent.
Another direction… mindfulness allows you to connect more deeply to God. For example, when you are in church you are more “in church.” As a practitioner of mindfulness, you minimize thinking about what you have to do after the service, who is sitting behind you, what you are wearing, you are more focused on your faith and the importance of it.
3. Mindfulness allows you to connect to your body “as a temple to honor God.”
Our bodies are wonderful gifts. They talk to us all the time and tell us when they are out of balance or when certain parts need attention. When we allow space to connect with our breathing and our physicality, we allow ourselves to truly see and hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. This allows Christians more clarity and power to help nurture the container of the soul. It also provides more strength to literally help you embody your faith.
What are some resources to support the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer?
Centering Prayer is a receptive, deep method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/category/category/centering-prayer
Fr. Thomas Keating is the leading contemporary exponent of centering prayer. He was asked by the Garrison Institute to compare Centering Prayer with mindfulness:
TGI: What are some similarities and differences between Centering Prayer and mindfulness meditation?
Fr. Keating: Mindfulness is a wonderful practice and has been refined and honed over the ages. These practices are found in the Hindu tradition and other Eastern traditions, and also the Hebrew tradition. There are similar practices in the Christian contemplative tradition, but with a slightly different emphasis. Mindfulness meditation is about consciousness, it emphasizes the mind. Christian contemplative practices emphasize the heart and Heartfulness.
TGI: Can you define heartfulness?
Heartfulness is the cultivation of interior silence in relation to the ultimate reality, what in the Abrhamic traditions is called God. It is a cultivation of spiritual will, the seat of the deepest level of love in the organism. It has roots in Old Testament, going back 3000 years. It is a contemplative tradition, deeply rooted. .
TGI: What is the relationship between mindfulness and heartfulness?
You might say they are not exclusive of each other. According to my understanding of Hebrew religion and mindfulness, they are meant to include both mind and heart in the deeper seat of human consciousness. The Hebrew Bible in certain passages clearly deals with higher consciousness and contemplative states. Mindfulness also includes the cultivation of the heart, the need for the heart and mind to work together, and even modern science now supports this view.
Yet the two things are not identical. The heart is a pump, but it has its own way of “thinking.” It produces some 60 hormones to deal with various situations in the human organism. That too is a form of relationship with the ultimate reality. In dialogues I have had with Buddhists, they have the notion of ultimate reality, but their relationship to it is impersonal. This is also true in the Hindu tradition, whereas in Abrahamic traditions, the capacity to relate personally through love is verystrongly emphasized.
But because the human organism is such a unity, you can’t have one without the other. You have to have a heart that is at least listening to the commentary of human reason. And obviously the heart has its limitations. But neither should we get stuck in the limits of mental creation. Contemplative traditions are moving towards the integration of both sides – mindfulness with heartfulness.
TGI: So do you also see a convergence between “meditation” and “contemplation?”
What the Eastern traditions call meditation is called contemplation in the Western tradition called contemplation. They are basically the same thing. … [see the rest of his interview here]
Centering Prayer has a very simple method. Here are the four steps:
I. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
II. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
III. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
IV. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. For more see the Contemplative Prayer Outreach brochure.
What other resources are there regarding mindfulness from a Catholic perspective?
Christian Meditation for Children (Australia)
Jesus: The Shortest, Simplest, and Most Powerful Prayer in the World An article by Peter Kreeft
Note: Pope Paul VI’s Declaration of the Church on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), 1965, acknowledges the wisdom in the Buddhist tradition, which includes a focus on mindfulness and compassion. Thomas Merton was among the first of many Christians who have found these values consistent with a spirituality of solidarity.
We pray for mindfulness,
For the attentiveness
That leads to discernment
of God’s will and God’s ways.
We pray for mindfulness
Of our own hearts and minds.
Help us to be aware
Of how we react in thought,
Speech and action.
Help us to be aware
How we can
Always be open to the grace
That can shape us in new ways.
We pray for mindfulness
Of what is happening to others.
Help us to be present
To their sorrow and suffering.
Help us to be aware
Of the injustices that
Touch other lives.
We pray for mindfulness
To be aware of how God
Is calling us
to be agents for peace and justice.
Help us to be aware
Of the words we are called to speak,
Of the actions we are called to take part in,
Of the compassion we are called to offer
In a world so wounded, so in need.