What is MINDFULNESS and can Christians practice it?
“The simplest definition of Mindfulness is ‘non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.'” —Dr. Gregory Bottaro, The Present Moment: A Christian Approach to Mindfulness
As the authors at Mind & Spirit note, fight, flight, and freeze are normal psychological responses to trauma, and sadly, in the wake of all manners of abuse many people find themselves in “flight” from God. Their minds and spirits suffer damage. Proper treatment of injured persons should focus on the whole person–body, spirit, and mind.
The brain is an organ, like the heart or lungs. Modern medicine should involve brain health as much as it involves cardiac, pulmonary, immunological, and gastric health. Yet, sometimes the same Christians taking ACE inhibitors to lower their high blood pressure hesitate to recognize a need for preventative brain health. Mindfulness is a tool for just that–preventative brain health. It is a strategy, a tool, that helps slow the mind and connect mind and spirit on a deeper level.
Psychologist Dr. Gregory Bottaro says this of mindfulness:
“Think of mindfulness practice as brain exercise, not unlike Sodoku or a crossword puzzle, that activates neural stimulation in certain parts of the brain, and in doing so, creates stronger neural pathways and connections. Research shows that mindfulness stimulates parts of the brain that help people to feel less anxious, and turns off the parts that make people feel more anxious. It can help us regulate our ‘fight or flight’ response and regain control of our bodies.”
Below we share links to ongoing debate about Christians’ practice of mindfulness. We’ve read both sides dispassionately. The bottom line is, the bulk of objections to the practice of stilling the mind and elevating focus (what the Western world means by “mindfulness”) lies in misguided semantics. E.g., You can call that sweet syrupy, gooey southern pie “pe-KAHN” or “PEE-can,” but either way it’s made with same ingredients, it tastes the same, and it delivers the same calories.
The etymology of the word mindfulness traces the word to Middle English’s myndefull, myndeful, and Old English’s (West Germanic’s) gemyndful, meaning of good memory, attentive, heedful. Mindfulness, in context, connotes these: cautiousness, solicitude, diligence, concentration, circumspection, awareness, attentiveness, discernment, exactitude, faithfulness. Are these at odds with the practice of Christianity? No. So what’s the real issue, then? In short, it’s one part fear of intermingling religions and one part false dichotomy.
Rejecting “Mindfulness” as a “Buddhist practice” is a FALSE DICHOTOMY.
Most Christian objections to mindfulness irrationally denounce it as Buddhist religious practice. The fear is Christians practicing mindfulness are tainting Christianity with unholy Buddhist mysticism. This is a false dichotomy, or an “either-or-fallacy”: mindfulness is either Buddhist or Christian, but not a concept reconciled with both.
While Buddhism does include a religious practice of mindfulness, this inclusion no more divorces the concept of mindfulness from Christianity than Buddhism’s concept of Nirvana divorces the concept of Heaven from Christianity. The underlying concepts can share similarities and still be unique to each religion. Practicing mindfulness does not mean practicing either Buddhism or Christianity. Though current popularity of mindfulness in Western culture associates the term with Buddhism, the concept is not exclusive to the Buddhist religion. The concept preexisted Western popularity and is, in fact, enveloped both the Old and New Testament.
In Hebrew, the biblical word for meditate is hageh. Literally, it means to “growl” and it was linked to the concept of encircling and surrounding one’s food. The Bible tells Christians to feast on the Word of God. Feasting on the Word, then, means we surround the Word with our whole selves, our whole attention. We consume the Word in small bites, chew each bite, digest each part slowly, and allow each part to fill our entire being. Whether we call this a pot-A-to or a pot-AH-to, this is the practice of mindfulness:
1. Joshua 1:8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”
2. Genesis 24:63: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.”
3. Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
4. Psalm 119: 10-16: “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”
5. 1 Timothy 4:8-16: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
Mindfulness is biblical, and Jesus, himself, calls His disciples to practice it.
In Luke 21, where Jesus’ disciples marvel over Herod’s ornate, opulent temple. Jesus warns that ruin was on the horizon and that even the refined temple stones would be “overturned.” Jesus juxtaposes this outward ruin with inward fortification, telling his disciples that though they face imminent persecution, if they have “settled” the Word in their “hearts,” they will be ready to give testimony. In other words, disciples won’t be anxious in trying times where they have sufficiently studied, committed, and fixed their minds.
Contextual displacement of mindfulness muddies the semantics. We practice mindfulness whether we call it mindfulness or not when we make daily to do lists, annotate texts, create art or music, exercise, pray in our closets, journal, engage in self-reflection, etc. Certainly, no part can make the whole. Depending on context, any word–verb, adjective, or noun–can be unholy. We generally see angels as heavenly, but Satan was an angel, too, right? Context matters. If a person practices mindfulness absent Christ, the practice will not make the person “Christ-like”; however, practicing mindfulness in Christ helps keeps a person holy sanctified, devoted to God.
Disciples will have the Spirit of power and sound mind where they have sufficiently practiced mindfulness. With that understanding, we share links for Christian Mindfulness under the Mindfulness tab above and we have compiled both pro and anti mindfulness arguments below.
The Lesser Lights
The Mindfulness Debate on the Web: the Case for and Against Christian Mindfulness
Here are some pro-mindfulness positions:
Here is a liminal position comparing “mindfulness” to “Christian Devotional Meditation.” (This reinforces our “part of the whole” contextual argument above. The authors’ “Christian Devotional Meditation” is really “Christian Mindfulness.” Pot-A-to. Pot-AH-to.)
Here are some anti-mindfulness positions: