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Mindfulness and Christianity

mindfulnessOver the last 25 years a new word has become prevalent in the field of individual health and development – Mindfulness. Based squarely in Buddhist philosophy, the principles of Mindfulness are far from new, so it might be surprising that thousands of organisations as diverse as the NHS, Google, the Methodist, Baptist and Anglican Churches and the British Army have recently introduced it as a development tool. Christians, on the other hand, who base their beliefs upon Scripture, will not be surprised to find that Mindfulness is simply another deception: a subtle mechanism to distort Christ’s message and lead people away from God.   Why are Mindfulness and Christianity incompatible?

Simply, Mindfulness can be defined as “The state or quality of being mindful or aware of something.” Mindfulness practitioners, however, enunciate more complex definitions:

Mindfulness is wordless. Mindfulness is meeting the moment as it is, moment after moment after moment, wordlessly attending to our experiencing as it actually is. It is opening to not just the fragments of our lives that we like or dislike or view as important, but the whole of our experiencing.
White Wind Zen Community

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley

Mindful Awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.
Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles

Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself.
Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World

The “inventor” of Mindfulness puts it like this:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness encourages participants to observe and be aware of themselves, their thinking and their environment; to maintain a whole-life perspective; accept themselves and others for what they are; and above all, to make no judgements.

On the face of it Mindfulness is innocuous; even a valuable idea. After all, awareness lies at the core of Christian teaching. It is through self-awareness that we test our faith and critically evaluate our behaviour. Without it there can be no contrition, no repentance.  Without awareness of others we cannot perceive need and fulfil our obligations to the naked, hungry and imprisoned (Matt 25:31 ff). Without awareness of God there can be no faith or guidance and no sense of awe, fear or love.

mindfulness and Christianity

Yet, these Christian expressions of awareness are diametrically opposed to the objectives of Mindfulness. Whereas Christians seek first to please God through self-awareness (1 Tim 4:16), Mindfulness practitioners’ first objective is to benefit self. Where Christians aspire to unselfishly meet the needs of others (Acts 20:35), Mindfulness teaches how to minimise the impact that others have upon us. Whilst Christians use awareness to seek the face of God and find solace and guidance in His council (Matt 6:33), Mindfulness seeks solutions within our own thinking.

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
2 Corinthians 13:5

There are crossovers of course. Self-management and self-control are features of both Christianity and Mindfulness. But whereas Christians subjugate themselves to the regimen and discipline of God which they see as restorative (James 4:7), Mindfulness sees personal constraint as an obstacle to well-being that needs to be eliminated. Where Christians value guilt as a warning of bad behaviour (2 Cor 7:9-10), Mindfulness labels it an unhelpful emotion.

Advocates of Mindfulness claim that it is aimed at better social interactions and is therefore beneficial to both self and others, but the recurrent focus upon “self first” undermines that claim. In reality Mindfulness embodies the persistent messages of our era: my rights; me-time; my feelings; self-image; self-expression; my pronouns; equality of outcome and so on.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

As Mindfulness participants concentrate on their breathing to rid themselves of the stress brought on by ignoring God’s rules for a happy existence, Christians find solace, strength and peace by studying Scripture. While the lost practice Mindfulness in order to “let go” of their negative feelings about others, Christians learn to embrace and love those that do us harm. Mindfulness teaches “strategies” to maintain a positive state of “mental health”.  Christians know that an unhealthy state of mind comes from our failure to properly follow the teachings of Christ and that our best hope for healing comes by a more diligent application of His instruction.

The fundamental precept of Christianity is the ardent adoption of a loving sentiment toward, first God and second, our fellow men and women (Matt 22:37-39). Our single objective is to emulate the character of Christ, the world’s only supremely unselfish human being whom, although innocent of any wrongdoing, suffered the agony and humiliation of the crucifixion.  Jesus had only a momentary thought for Himself before that dreadful task He was about to undertake.  He voluntarily laid down His life for us and by so doing taught us the greatest love of all. 

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee;

take away this cup from me:

nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Mark 14:36

Mindfulness has a different message. It is the beguiling message of this generation: best articulated by Whitney Houston’s chart-topper, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”.

When parents tell of how Mindfulness improved their parenting, they usually refer to their own feelings rather than that of their child. When marketers speak about how they have become better marketers, they usually mean they have reduced stress and increased income, not that through an heightened awareness they have provided a better service to their clients.

do what thou wiltMore sinister still is that this all-encompassing love of self is achieved without judgement; and is therefore devoid of correction. Mindfulness becomes mindlessness: amoral, self-serving and cold. Self-censure was once the mark of courage and responsibility, but now we are told not to beat ourselves up: not to be so hard on ourselves.  In interactions with others too, judgements are considered undesirable. The Bible tells us the opposite; to choose our company with discernment; to associate with people who seek greater understanding and a closer association with God. For that we must make sound judgements.

The overriding message of the Mindfulness self-fest is, “anything goes, nothing matters”; which is reminiscent of the favourite saying of Aleister Crowley, the English occultist: “Do what thou wilt.”  How unsurprising that today’s churches, whom Christ accused of having lost their first love (Rev 2:4), should be teaching Mindfulness and Christianity.

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