Father S.O.S

Can a Christian practice mindfulness?

The idea and practice of mindfulness, a technique of attention and relaxation, has become widespread. Is it acceptable and compatible with the Christian faith?  How does it relate to prayer?

Carlos Chiclana-April 9, 2018-Reading time: 3 minutes

Esther wrote to me, bewildered: "On Sunday during the homily, the parish priest was very angry about mindfulness, he only had to say something bad about psychologists... I am going to explain to him that it does not come from the devil, that it is very effective and that it is not incompatible with the Christian faith". The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 15, 1989) admits that "Authentic meditation practices coming from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which have an attraction for today's man, alienated and troubled, may constitute a suitable means to help the person who prays to be interiorly relaxed before God, even if he is urged by external solicitations"..

There is confusion. Patients ask, "I am recommended to do mindfulness, but I read that the roots are Buddhist and its medium is Eastern meditation. As a Christian, I don't know if it is appropriate." Another: "Will my relationship with God be negatively conditioned by a technique that is not suitable for me?  syncretistic? The polemic is false: mindfulness and prayer are two different activities. The first is a technical exercise that seeks mindfulness without judgment and with acceptance. And prayer is an intimate and profound dialogue, of a personal and communal nature, in which the human being opens himself freely to the transcendent God, and in which two freedoms meet.

There are those who do mindfulness at one time and prayer at another time, those who overlap the two because it focuses them to open themselves to God, or those who do only one of the two. Prayer can "to take from the various meditation techniques what is useful, provided that the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and its demands, are maintained.".

Mindfulness is not a substitute for prayer.

For the Christian, says the aforementioned Letter, the "The way of approaching God is not based on a technique [...]. Authentic Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift from God, of which the one who receives it feels unworthy....". Mindfulness is not a substitute for prayer, and can complement it. It can be misused, like someone who abuses a App to pray or replaces praying with relaxing experiences.

But it has shown its efficacy, in clinical experience and academic studies, in improving physical and mental health, by way of reducing stress and anxiety. Is this contrary to faith? There are those who think so and say: "How can you trust a technique that tries to suppress human pain? That goes against the way of the Cross!". I suppose they are also against ibuprofen.

Prayer with God is a good mindfulness practice

A baptized friend, with no Christian training or practice, doing mindfulness, heard without a voice inside her: "You have a temple inside you". Surprised, she asked two friends with faith. Both answered the same thing: "Of course, it is the Trinity that is looking for you". It seems logical that attending to the present can make it easier for you, if you want, to connect with the One who is always in the present.

Mindfulness can be a previous step before getting into the attitude of opening oneself to God, of waiting for him, of accepting him. It promotes acceptance, something that for a Christian can be a way of imitating God. fiat of the Virgin Mary or of Jesus Christ's acceptance of the Passion. It encourages non-judgment, which resonates with various New Testament passages. However, ask your spiritual companion if, for you, it can be a beneficial action prior to prayer.

The attitude of the person, the intentionality, the openness to a personal God, and to the presence of the Trinity, etc., are elements that can guide us to integrate mindfulness in the practice of Christian life and observe what fruits it bears, whether it helps us to love others more or makes us more self-absorbed. "All Christian contemplative prayer constantly refers to the love of neighbor, to action and passion, and, precisely in this way, it brings us closer to God."The Letter on Christian Meditation also says.

In the image and likeness of God

Being in the image and likeness of God may frighten some, who fear that the power given by God to man will confuse him and make him want to be God, but history has already shown us that repression of the truth - in this case, of the spiritual power of the human being - does not usually bring benefits. St. Ignatius of Loyola, who taught to pray with the breath, or St. John of the Cross, who knew how to get rid of the temporal and not become pregnant with the spiritual, have already opened the way to integrate body and spirit, without fear.

I encourage you to consider the benefits it can bring: reflection, acceptance, reduction of judgments, serenity, personal knowledge, etc. Each person will decide what to do with what he/she has achieved, whether to keep it for him/herself or share it with other human, angelic or divine persons.

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