The practice (or “process”) of “mindfulness” has been getting much attention in recent years, crossing over into mainstream, as evidenced by books with titles such as 10-Minute Mindfulness, Mindfulness for Beginners, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, and The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation (the latter by popular Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh). But mindfulness has now, says author and journalist Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, author and award-winning journalist, who is a member of the Third Order of Discalced Carmelites (secular) and staff journalist for Women of Grace, “one of the hottest new spiritual practices of our day. … Corporate executives, Hollywood stars, medical doctors, teachers, secretaries, and even clergy are avidly embracing it.” But what, exactly, is mindfulness? What are its roots and its goals? And is it compatible with Catholicism and the Catholic spiritual tradition?
Brinkmann, who wrote the recently published book A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, corresponded with CWR editor Carl E. Olson to discuss mindfulness and to offer a Catholic perspective.
CWR: For those who aren’t familiar with it, what is the mindfulness movement? What are its roots and aims?
Susan Brinkmann: The mindfulness movement is a psycho-spiritual movement that is mainly driven by psychologists who have adapted an ancient Buddhist meditation practice as a means for helping people who are suffering from a variety of mental health issues.
Mindfulness is derived from the Buddhist tradition and is the seventh step in the Noble Eightfold Path, which Buddhists believe is a process that leads to awakening to one’s true nature. Known as Right-Mindfulness, it means controlling thoughts by maintaining awareness and focus on the present moment which is usually accomplished through some form of meditation.
The man responsible for introducing mindfulness into medicine in the West is a biomedical scientist named Jon Kabat-Zinn. A practicing Buddhist and board member of the Mind and Life Institute, an organization dedicated to “exploring the relationship of science and Buddhism as ways to better understand the nature of reality,” Kabat-Zinn always believed his karmic assignment was to find a way to bring his dharma practice together with his scientific pursuits to create one unified whole.
While on a vipassana retreat, he had a vision in which he “saw” a way to do this, through a program he would later call the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. This program was designed to be a patient-centered approach which could be used in hospital settings to treat persons with PTSD and other stress/anxiety disorders. However, with the core of the program being intensive training in mindfulness meditation, he knew these Buddhist roots would make many people nervous and so he “bent over backward” to find ways to employ the program without revealing its Buddhist roots.
To this day, many psychologists who use the program insist that it’s not spiritual and that it can be detached from its Buddhist roots. But, as my book details, this defies the facts as well as the research which has found that mindfulness and spirituality interact and that both are important mechanism through mindfulness-based interventions exert benefits.
CWR: What are some examples of its popularity? Why has it proven to be so successful? What is the attraction?
Susan Brinkmann: According to the latest Pew report, eight in ten Americans are afflicted by stress, so it’s no surprise that a program offering relief from anxiety, without drugs, would be appealing. But what turned mindfulness into a phenomenon is a constant drumbeat of positive media reports about the alleged health benefits of the practice. As a result, what appeared to be early successes in the use of MBSR led to the creation of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School through which Kabat-Zinn’s program entered the mainstream. This, in turn, spawned numerous scientific investigations. At first, these studies were reporting positive effects of the practice of mindfulness such as improving brain and immune system function, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, treating binge eating and even reducing the pace of cellular age. Particular emphasis was put on its use in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression because of how the practice taught people to “stand back” from their thoughts and simply observe them without trying to control their emotions. From there, it became popular for other treatments such as relationship and educational issues.
For years, mindfulness enjoyed almost a constant flow of positive research until recently, when scientists began to look at these studies more closely. In 2014, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed nearly 19,000 meditation studies and came up with just 47 that met their criteria for a well-designed study. Some of the problems included lack of adequate control for placebo, self-selection bias, small cohorts, etc. Of the 47 studies that made the cut, the science found only a small to moderate effect of mindfulness in reducing emotional symptoms and no evidence that mindfulness programs were better than other treatments.
Many scientists realized that the reason there were no negative reports about mindfulness is that too few studies bothered to look for adverse effects. More attention began to be paid to this area of research which uncovered a long list of psychological and physical side effects of mindfulness meditation including depersonalization, psychosis, hallucinations, disorganized speech, feelings of anxiety, loss of appetite and insomnia. And these are not isolated findings. One study found that 63 percent of the group studied had suffered at least one negative effect from the meditation.
CWR: Who are the major proponents of mindfulness discussed in your book, and how have they become influential in current Catholic practices?
Susan Brinkmann: The practice of mindfulness has been taken up by many Christian psychologists who have been relying on these faulty studies as a reason to introduce the practice to their clientele. Even though many of these psychologists insist that one can separate the practice of being mindful from mindfulness, the main way to achieve this mindfulness is through the practice of some form of meditation such as Breathing Space Meditation, Body Scan Meditation, Movement Meditation – all of which are Buddhist practices. This contradiction has spawned a great deal of ambiguity among the faithful which has led many to raise important questions about its use by Christians. If it’s just a particular method of paying attention, then why are Buddhist meditation techniques required?
Even more concerning are the number of Christians who incorporate aspects of mindfulness meditation into their prayer life, not realizing that eastern meditation is not compatible with Christian prayer. Meditation in the east is a mental exercise designed to bring about an altered state for the purpose of achieving enlightenment. In the West, meditation means prayer which is intended to draw one closer to God.
For example, in my book I tell the story of a woman whose husband had taken up the twice-daily practice of Body Scan Meditation to help him cope with stress. The family had been in the practice of praying together every night and he decided that he would no longer join them and would practice his mindfulness meditation instead. When she confronted him about it, saying that prayer is more restful, he disagreed and asked her to leave him alone.
Whether one intends to drift away from Christianity or not, taking up the practice of mindfulness meditation can indeed lead one away from the faith.
CWR: Mindfulness, as you noted, draws on Buddhist ideas. What are the key problems with this approach? In what ways are Catholicism and Buddhism incompatible?
Susan Brinkmann: As Dr. Anthony E. Clark says in the foreword of the book, the direction one drives a car determines the place one arrives at, and our spiritual practice is no different. “When one understands well the intentions of Christian prayer and mindfulness, it is clear that, at their root, they point in contrasting directions,” he writes.
Many Catholics believe Buddhism is not really a religion because it doesn’t involve the worship of a god. It’s more of a philosophy or system of ethics, they say, and is harmless. However, upon closer inspection, we quickly realize that this is just one of many diverging philosophies that make Catholicism and Buddhism completely incompatible.
For example, on the most basic level, Buddhists do not believe in the existence of the soul. They believe people who think they have a soul are rooted in ignorance and in a desire to please one’s “self” and that we become truly enlightened only after we come to the realization that there is no such thing as a soul. Christians not only believe in the existence of the soul, but that the soul can achieve eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Christians believe suffering brings us closer to God and unites us with our Suffering Lord. Buddhists believe suffering is something to be escaped from.
Christ teaches that He is the “Way, the truth and the life,” (John 14:6), but the Buddha teaches that every person must find their own path to enlightenment.
Both faiths teach love but the Christian agape love is personal, individual and free-willed. The Buddhist teaches karuna, an impersonal feeling of compassion. The best way to understand what a stark difference this makes between the two faiths is found in the Buddhist story of the saint who gave his cloak to a beggar. The Christian gives his cloak to the beggar because of Christ’s love for the beggar. The Buddhist gives his cloak to the beggar because it’s the enlightened thing to do. In other words, the Buddhist’s concern is not for the welfare of the beggar, as is the Christian, but for the liberation of the giver from the burden of self.
Another problem I have seen stems from erroneous interpretations of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. This document says that we are permitted to adopt what is good from other religions because it believes that other religions “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” What is often overlooked, however, is that a reflection of a ray is not truth that is directly from the source, but only a reflection of the source that is found in the Catholic faith.
This is why prominent theologians such as Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, warned that the poorly-catechized Christian should not engage in any kind of interreligious dialogue because this is only for doctrinally equipped Christians.
And in regard to incorporating eastern meditation techniques into Christian prayer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger teaches in A Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation that we can adopt what is good from other religions “so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.” Herein lies the problem. Buddhist meditation techniques such as mindfulness, by their very nature, are diametrically opposed to the Christian conception of prayer, which is “the raising of one’s heart and mind to God.” Buddhist meditation focuses on the self, while Christian meditation focuses on God.
In lieu of all of the above, St. John Paul II issues a well-founded warning in Crossing the Threshold of Faith that because the Buddhist and the Catholic have an essentially different way of perceiving the world, the Christian who wants to embrace ideas originating in Eastern religions needs to “know one’s own spiritual heritage well” before deciding whether or not to set the Faith aside.
CWR: You have a chapter on Catholic alternatives to Mindfulness. What are some examples? Why are some Catholics so eager to use something like Mindfulness rather than seek spiritual riches in the Catholic Tradition? And how can this book serve to clarify common confusions about mindfulness as a supplement to Catholic prayer?
Susan Brinkmann: In my experience teaching Carmelite spirituality, I have learned that the reason so many Catholics are adopting or attempting to blend eastern meditation techniques into their prayer life is because they sincerely don’t understand what Christian prayer is all about. The Church’s mystical tradition is rarely, if ever, addressed from the pulpit, which leaves many vulnerable to being drawn into eastern forms of prayer that are not compatible with Christian prayer.
For example, most are completely unaware that we have our own form of “mindfulness.” We are taught to “put on the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) and in order to do that we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). We do this by adopting practices such as the Sacrament of the Present Moment and the Practice of the Presence of God, both of which teach us how to be mindful of the everyday moments of our life and what God wills for us in each of those moments. Contrary to mindfulness, the Catholic focus on the present moment is not to enter a state of self-awareness, but into a state of abandonment to the will of God. We remain in the present not for the sake of the present, but for the sake of discovering the voice of God as He speaks to us in each moment of our day.
This book devotes three chapters to explaining, in concise and easy-to-understand language, the differences between the Buddhist and Catholic mystical traditions. It will be of great help to the faithful as well as the clergy, religious, catechists and spiritual directors who seek to guide them.
CWR: What do you say when high profile, orthodox Catholics, endorse mindfulness?
Susan Brinkmann: It’s not at all surprising that even the most learned Catholics would endorse mindfulness. Just like any other spiritual fad, of which the New Age is full, it takes a lot of time and effort to cut through the hype and get to the facts. By their own admission, not everyone has the time to do this. After 14 years of experience researching the New Age, which includes eastern meditation practices under its wide umbrella, I can say that most people – even those who should know better – are woefully uneducated about New Age practices. I have had priests, bishops, doctors, lawyers, seminary professors, and even the practitioners themselves admit that they don’t know what they believe they should know about a particular practice.
This is further complicated by the fact that there are very few Catholic researchers into the area of the New Age who make their work available to the public. Father Mitch Pacwa, Johnnette Benkovic, myself, and maybe a few others. However, the demand for this information is widespread. The New Age Q&A blog that we maintain at Women of Grace has more than 1,000 entries in its index and has been answering a never-ending stream of questions from around the world on a daily basis for almost 10 years now.
Considering the above, this is why I warn the faithful that even though such-and-such “big name” Catholic endorses mindfulness, a “big name” endorsement is not the same as an imprimatur. Especially in the case of book endorsements, if the title of the work has the word “Catholic” in it, the author has a moral obligation to have the work reviewed by the appropriate Church authorities to make sure that the content is in keeping with the Magisterium. As an author myself, I always consider the slight delay required to get an imprimatur a small price to pay to avoid becoming the “millstone” around the neck of someone that I led astray.
The bottom line is that, as my book details, there is enough credible evidence to prove that no one needs mindfulness for anything, either as a therapy or as an adjunct to their spiritual life.
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Responded to Ms Brinkmann’s NCR pointed article and add to my earlier assessment. First the Eastern religious philosophies Buddhism, Hinduism have long had large footprints on the Am psyche and since Vat II on the Catholic. Sometimes it takes someone who lived on the ‘other side’ to offer cogent insight into false religion. She rightly says it’s New Age. The ‘god’ of Buddha and the Dali Lama is an impersonal amorphous mental construct identified in all things. The ‘god’ of the Hindu guru and of the Ashram is a philosophy of well being, a Nirvana experience of detachment. In both there are elements of classical Catholic contemplation. For misguided Catholics there is inevitably transposition of the God of Abraham and Moses, Jesus Christ to a created mental image they believe is a greater closeness to God. A kind of warm and fuzzy impersonal deity. Mindfulness is psychological philosophy that by its nature ameliorates our perception of our life rather than stark realization of the truth. Christ instead reveals the reality of a personal God whose good is evident in acceptance of the Cross. The Cross proves our intimate love of God and love of others. It is the Cross that make atheists and nominal Catholics feel uncomfortable. Catholic contemplation inspires us to reenter the world with spiritual fire.
there are some excellent points to be said for the Eastern way of
contemplation that are not mentioned here.
the Catholic use of the mantras Abba, JESU, AND RUAH in conjunction with the Eastern breathing technique are helpful when starting the prayer of quiet, then you let them go. I find it best right after Mass in front of the blessed sacrament
It disappoints me to hear you say all of that. There is energy within the body. Only the creator could have put it there… I will harness this energy and give thanks to HIM for the opportunity. If I feel lousy, I am no use to God or anybody else. HE told me my body is a temple. That means to me that when I care for my mind and body I honor HIM.
That is very close to a major meditation tradition, in the Eastern Church ( Byzantine Catholic), as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church! This is from a Wikipedia article on Christian meditation:
“During the Byzantine Empire, between the 10th and 14th centuries, a tradition of prayer called hesychasm developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and continues to the present. St. Gregory of Sinai is considered by most to be the founder of the hesychastic approach to prayer. This tradition uses a special posture and breathing rituals, accompanied by the repetition of a short prayer (traditionally the ‘Jesus Prayer’) giving rise to suggestions that it may have been influenced by Indian approaches. “While some might compare it [hesychastic prayer] with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the ‘surface’ meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.” Rather, it is to be in the spirit of a true mantra. This style of prayer was at first opposed as heretical by Barlam in Calabria, but was defended by Saint Gregory Palamas. Coming from hesychia (“stillness, rest, quiet, silence”), hesychasm continues to be practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Church and some other Eastern Churches of the Byzantine Rite. Hesychasm has not gained significance in the Western churches.
In hesychasm, the Jesus prayer, consisting of the phrase: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” is repeated either for a set period of time or a set number of times. Hesychasm is contrasted with the more mental or imaginative forms of Christian meditation in which a person is encouraged to imagine or think of events from the life of Jesus or sayings from the Gospel. Sometimes hesychasm has been compared to the meditative techniques of oriental religions and it is possible that there were interactions between Hesychasts and Sufis, but this has not been proven.”. I found it very interesting that what so many are demonizing in this article and comments, was being practiced by various saints! It reinforces my belief that Ms. Brinkman and most of the comments ( including Father Morella), do not really understand what is meant by mindfulness at all. The are reacting out of fear and prejudice, rather than truly inquiring into the nature of the truth here. Then, they reinforce each other in the ignorance, and think they must be right because of others agreeing! It is much more like what Theresa of Avila practiced ( read the comments of Anne Marie), and the quote above.
And yet, every Catholic article I’ve read about Mindfulness completely ignores the fact that, yes, modern-day mindfulness, in very large part draws from that promoted by Buddhism. What none mention is that the teaching of mindfulness first and foremost comes from ancient (300 BC ancient) Stoic, Greek philosophers, and Catholics can certainly use some of these methods from these ancient g\Greeks to focus on the present moment; and that present moment is filled with the Presence of God. So tired of everyone telling Catholics to disregard something just because other religions have taken it up. Of course, as Catholic Christians we need to make certain we’re following true Christian doctrine and methods, but consider the source. The truest source of Mindfulness is not Buddhism; it’s Stoicism, which is not directly theological, but is very nicely integrated into our Catholic Christian theology when used to focus on the present moment, as I’d mentioned before, with the understanding and realization that in every moment we are in the Presence, and grace and protection of our Triune God.
Respectfully, you are exactly wrong on this ( as is Ms. Brinkman). Neither one of you correctly understand mindfulness, or Buddhist meditation. I have studied and tried both of them, before my reconversion 20 years ago, back to Catholicism. If you are at all curious, about what I mean ( which is not easily understood), read my numerous recent posts on this article and responding to other comments.Also read Anne Marie’s comments, and Barry Schoedel’s also.
Essentially, mindfulness correctly understood is very much a similar practice, to that which many great Saints employed in becoming present to God ( as Mother Angelica said , be in the present moment with God)! I have cited many examples in these other comments.
I agree, they must have used similar states to reach holiness. Rejecting them just because they come from somewhere else without acknowledging that mindfulness might have been more common in the past than we think.
I disagree that if something became popular (mindfulness from Buddhism) then everything else cannot be similar or identical to something anything else. That is a false premise. That’s not how logical sentences work.
Closing your eyes and being still is universal, and belongs to no culture. There are children that do that, and most people that might be bored and have no activity, you don’t need to call it a technique, that has to be inherited from somewhere else. There are thousands of human habits that predate Christianity, Buddhism and the Greeks.
The fallacy in this article is that Christianity and Buddhism are since forever snd they need to be compared to each other as if the two are the only ones that bring spirituality. Well, they aren’t, and they lean on Universal elements, human and animals habits practices that are million years old.
Thank you for this article and the important distinctions it makes between mindfulness meditation and Christian prayer. MM is taking the educational world by storm, and articles such as this need to be brought to the Catholic educational community’s attention. In my Catholic school board, we have worked hard to introduce students to Christian contemplative prayer, purposefully distinguishing it from Eastern forms of meditation, with a focus on encountering God in Christ. The results have been very positive.
Anthony, that is very encouraging. Good for you all.
“The family had been in the practice of praying together every night and he decided that he would no longer join them and would practice his mindfulness meditation instead. When she confronted him about it, saying that prayer is more restful, he disagreed and asked her to leave him alone.”
I see a root issue here. Namely, the husband is seeking a relaxation method. The wife insisting that prayer is more restful is misleading. Restfulness is not what praying is about. That may be a side benefit for some but not all. And it is quite possible the wife just “feels” more restful because everyone is doing what she feels they should.
Stopping and “thinking” about what we say and do are techniques used to help those with hair-trigger responses pull back. Taking regular respites to practice pulling back is a good thing. The mind is part of our body.
Does that mean we stop praying? No.
Maybe what needs to happen is better education as to what prayer is instead of allowing for a false comparison between it and something that–for some–is helpful.
There are many ways of relaxing without engaging in Eastern religious practices.
And the wife is right, prayer is relaxing. Rosary may not be relaxing for the husband but perhaps a simple resting in the presence of God will help.
As for “nstead of allowing for a false comparison between it and something that–for some–is helpful” it is not a false comparison to say that Mindfullness is incompatible with Christian belief since the author explained quite well why that is so.
Also we need to define what we mean by “helpful”, considering that as the author has shown, the practice in fact caused insomnia, anxiety, depersonalization etc in its practitioners.
Even the so called God Father of the New Age movement “Edgar Cayce” said our ultimate happiness mission is giving our will to God “And watch yourself get happy”
The best Catholic expert on this topic is Dr Kevin Majeres (MD, Harvard). Just check out any or all of his youtube videos.
He helps people with ADHD, distraction, memory, optimal work.
The definition of mindfulness which I know is “the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.” Since Susan Brinkmann is a Secular Carmelite, I am sure that she knows how much aware of the present moment St. Teresa of Avila was. This is most clearly seen in St. Teresa’s comment:“I watch my understanding, and leave it alone to see what it will do. Glory be to God, for a wonder, it never runs on what is wrong, but only on indifferent things.” (“Life”, 30, 19) This is a perfect example of mindfulness. She also describes the recollection which one should have after receiving communion: “When you have received the Lord, and are in His very presence, try to shut the bodily eyes and to open the eyes of the soul and to look into your own hearts. I tell you, and tell you again, for I should like to repeat it often, that if you practise this habit of staying with Him, not just once or twice, but whenever you communicate, and strive to keep your conscience clear so that you can often rejoice in this your Good, He will not, as I have said, come so much disguised as to be unable to make His presence known to you in many ways, according to the desire which you have of seeing Him. So great, indeed, may be your longing for Him that He will reveal Himself to you wholly.” (“Way of Perfection”, 34, 12) This again is a perfect example of mindfulness.
And how much of the current mindfulness movement is oriented toward God, the reception of Holy Communion, and longs for union with the Trinity? As Brinkmann notes:
The point is that the differences between the current fads and authentic Christian contemplation should be carefully considered, whatever language or techniques might seem to be similar or compatible.
Dear Mr. Colson, I would find your reply more helpful if you had begun with a definition of mindfulness. We may well be talking about two different things. God bless you.
The interview opens with an overview of what mindfulness is (“a psycho-spiritual movement that is mainly driven by psychologists who have adapted an ancient Buddhist meditation practice as a means for helping people who are suffering from a variety of mental health issues”), some of its main roots (“derived from the Buddhist tradition and is the seventh step in the Noble Eightfold Path, which Buddhists believe is a process that leads to awakening to one’s true nature. Known as Right-Mindfulness…”), and how it came into Western practice and use (“The man responsible for introducing mindfulness into medicine in the West is a biomedical scientist named Jon Kabat-Zinn. A practicing Buddhist and board member of the Mind and Life Institute…”). I think that established the parameters fairly well, and makes it clear we are not discussing older, Christian understandings of being mindful, contemplation, etc.
Thank you. That makes it clear that we are very obviously talking about two different things, though they do have similar aspects. Please read my definition of mindfulness. As you can see, I do not link it to any specific exercises or world-view. God bless you.
Hi Carl, I think this in an important area of study and appreciate the interview. What isn’t clear to me is Susan Brinkmann’s credentials for giving direction to people in respect to spiritual theology. I don’t know that the has had formal theological and philosophical formation. Being a journalist for Women of Grace, and being a convert from the New Age, doesn’t make her opinion not count, however it shouldn’t be presented as authoritative in respect to Sacred Tradition. I don’t disagree with her criticism of the uncritical Western and Catholic appropriation of Buddhist forms of meditation. However, she lacks the training in theology to be aware of the legitimacy of natural meditation, i.e. meditation that isn’t done in reference to divine revelation, that is based in reason alone. Natural meditation is intrinsic to Natural Theology, or Philosophical Theology, as meditatio is an important aspect of coming to knowledge of God through natural reason. It is not wrong to refer to nature or self or to grow in self-awareness through natural reason alone. Is it incomplete? Of course, but it is a discipline that one should not be fearful of because it is rooted in the capacity to know that the Creator endowed us with. Also, I respect Dr. Clark a great deal but what makes Buddhist meditation and Catholic meditation distinct is the OBJECT of meditation. The object of Catholic meditation is ultimately union with God the Holy Trinity insofar as He has revealed Himself to man and the means of being reconciled to Him. The object of Buddhist meditation is the realization that the self doesn’t exist and that all phenomena are illusory and impermanent. What I am saying is that it is more properly the object of Buddhist meditation that makes it misguided, and actually false. Or, put another way, the perceived object is what orients the methods. Nevertheless there is a legitimate place in the life of the human person for the practice and discipline of natural theology which could easily include practices that develop an understanding of reality through reason alone, including the reality of the human person. If this involved breathing or focusing the mind it shouldn’t be a matter to be fearful of. In fact even people of deep faith may benefit from such an approach insofar as the two wings of faith and reason are the means by which we ascend to truth.
Office of Evangelization & Catechesis
Diocese of Baton Rouge
You ask “And how much of the current mindfulness movement is oriented toward God, the reception of Holy Communion, and longs for union with the Trinity?” If you want a list of truly Catholic mindfulness courses, I can’t say. However, you will find a truly Catholic mindfulness course at http://catholicmindfulness.teachable.com/. It is taught by Dr. Gregory Bottaro, who was with the Friars of the Renewal for 4 years and was formed by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. It is based on “Abandonment to Divine Providence” and “The Practice of the Presence of God.” For this reason, I think it would have avoided much confusion if Ms. Brinkmann had made it clear that she is referring only to the dangers of Buddhist-based mindfulness for Catholics.
I had a look at your website and Bonarro’s explanation of the Catholic Mindfulness.
I don’t believe it is necessary. A healthy prayer life is the key. Not techniques. Mindfulness is essentially a technique.
It may be a “technique”, However, you could say that conceivably about the Rosary! In fact, Protestants love to say that it is unnecessary. The point is whether it is St. Theresa of Avila, Mother Angelica, Saint Gregory of Sinai, or Saint Gregory Palamas ( see my other posts), or mindfulness, they are all pointing to an essential aspect of connecting with God. That is being present in this moment, which includes the awareness of your own thoughts and feelings. We often are distracted by our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and perceptions, as if they are in fact the absolute truth! Just because we feel something strongly, or think our interpretation is real, does not make it so. Meditation properly done, reveals our thoughts as mere thoughts, feelings as just feelings, allowing us to begin to be open to real truth( Coming from the Holy Spirit). The still small voice, as it has sometimes been described, cannot be perceived very well, when it is drowned out by the “noise”, of all that is going in inside us.
I’d stay away from it. Listen to Fr. Ripperger (exorcist) on the Dangers of Modern Psychology on YouTube. He has many great talks that truly educate the faithful. God bless him and protect him. He is a priest that truly cares for and educates the flock. God bless.
I have taken much of Dr. Bottaro’s course and have also dialogued with him extensively. His course retains many/most of the problems with mindfulness. Basically what he does is take the MBSR and tack some Catholic teaching and spirituality onto it. It does not solve the basic problems, just makes them more difficult for the average Catholic to discern.
Dear Connie, Thank you for your comment. Actually, I never even heard of mindfulness until a few months ago. I have practiced Con-centration for decades, which has nothing at all to do with Buddhism and is simply the detached awareness of the present situation as seen in the light of God’s providential will.
The radical difference between Mindfulness and the Sacrament of the Present Moment is, as I understand it, having looked at both ideas, that MM is contemplating the (naturally) original-Sin-affected perambulations and erratic of the human (and often diabolical) thought processes which continually assault the mind, and giving them far too much attention and even reverence; and the discipline of ignoring self and all its manifestations, to importune the Lord (as a small child does its mother) with praise, thanksgiving and, most of all, asking “Lord what is Your will for me at this moment? I offer you this… I love You, Forgive me, help me more.”
Really, it is a matter of concentrating on self (what a colossal bore) or the Presence or God.
No contest, surely.
Dear Maryse, (What a lovely name!) I gave above two passages from the writings of St Teresa of Avila concerning being aware of one’s thoughts. She insisted on the need and importance of self-knowledge throughout one’s whole spiritual life. How she understood this is shown in this passage from her “Life”: “As I gave him [St. Peter of Alcantara], in sum, an account of my life and the way I proceed in prayer, as clearly as I could, for I have always tried to speak clearly and truthfully with those to whom I open my soul (even expressing the first movements), and in doubtful and questionable matters arguing against myself, so without duplicity or hiding anything I made known my soul.” (“Life”, 30, 3). I think there is much confusion between “self-awareness” and “self-absorption.” Teresa had such a clear awareness of all that occurred in her soul, including her mind, that she could tell her confessors even “the first movements,” that is, the smallest impulse. That she submitted everything to her confessor’s judgment shows how far she was from being self-absorbed.
Concerning “the (naturally) original-Sin-affected perambulations and erratic of the human (and often diabolical) thought processes which continually assault the mind” that you mention, since at least the time of St. Benedict, spiritual masters have advised to do exactly what Teresa did: submit them to the judgment of one’s spiritual guide and then forget about them. But in order to submit them to the judgment of another, one must first be aware of them. God bless you.
I believe you are correct! I think your insights about Theresa of Avila, show exactly how the ideas of mindfulness ARE USED BY THE HOLIEST OF CATHOLIC SAINTS AND MYSTICS. All this hysteria and fear about Buddhism is silly. Most people having never really studied meditation, or practiced it, completely misunderstand what it has to offer Catholics. I have studied it and attempted to practice it ( it is not easy). For example, Charlotte Joko Beck, the author of “Everyday Zen”, states that the aim of meditation, is for the self to wither away, and to be present to God ( paraphrased). Is that a lot different from dying to ones’ self, letting go of attachments, in order to unite with God?
No, no they are not. I think you are missing something at the very heart of all of this. The mindfulness that is being taught is Buddhist mediation with a different name. Just as bad as the former fad, centering prayer. That was denounced by Cardinal Ratzinger decades ago. All is just another way to move Christians away from Christ. Try not to attribute Buddhist practices to the Saints. If you want to embrace mindfulness, go ahead, just leave our Saints out of it.
I am sorry, I was agreeing with Anne Marie, not Deb ( Which is how it looks)!
Mindfulness is a practice for acquiring the ability to be aware of the present situation. It’s value for a Catholic depends on what I am aware OF. If I am aware of what I can know only with my five physical senses plus reason, it may be helpful in my everyday life, but will be of little profit to me spiritually. If, on the other hand, I am aware of what I know by my five physical senses, my reason AND of what I know by faith, for example God’s presence within me by grace, then it can help me to attain a deep level of prayer. This is true of any method of prayer: its spiritual value depends on the depth of my living faith.
People are so closed minded! They take a cursory look at this subject( which is quite deep and complex), and look for anything to justify their prejudice. Once they find it, they return to heir smug self satisfaction. Here is a more enlightened view:
“In 2013, Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli, servicing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having worked for over 23 years with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), said that for his Meditation, a Christian can learn from other religious traditions (zen, yoga, controlled respiration, Mantra), quoting Aspects of Christian meditation: “Just as “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,” neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured. It is within the context of all of this that these bits and pieces should be taken up and expressed anew.””. Taken from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga
the Buddhists are supposed to be all calm and peaceful.
Ignorant people say “Galileo”, “crusades”, “Inquisition”,”child abuse”
to make us keep quiet.How about the Rohinga problem that is currently going on
!? Mynanmar (Burma) is a Buddhist country.so much for “compassion and peace .I heard no comments from the Dalai Lama about the Rohinga problem.
We are still having to deal with 60s and 70s syncretism? Thanks, Boomers!
No kidding. It was bad enough the first time around.
Method and technique can never make you better. When you understand that the betterment of man rely solely solely on Gods grace,but that doesn’t mean it has no value.Sin couches at your door you must master it.If you are tempted to cross the street and enter into sin.If you stand on one foot till either the temptation passes or you are to tuckerd out to go.This did not make you any better,it just prevented you from being worse
Fo rget about all that “meditation and mindfulness” nonsense.Meditation on the MYSTERIES OF THE ROSARY and the CRUCIFIX will do you more good mentally
and psychologically. Remember Buddhists are all atheists and can add nothing
to your well being. I tend to think all meditation outside of the gospel and pure Christian prayer is demonically inspired. Get on your knees and pray by MEDITATING ON CHRIST’S PASSION AND MARY’S SEVEN SORROWS and you will see peace and happiness, the likes of which you won’t see with”Mindfulness”.
Thumbs up for your comment, Henry Dee!
Well said, Henry! Could not agree more.
I would recommend the teachings of John Main on Christian meditation. Mindfulness for Catholics means leaving self behind.
John Main’s teaching is even more problematic than mindfulness. He learned his practice from a Hindu guru. The organization that promotes his teaching is mired in syncretism. Although Fr. Main and his followers call it “Christian Meditation,” it is miles away from the authentic Catholic tradition.
I am so glad you are in this discussion board to correct the erroneous ideas being promoted here.
I am a 36-year-old Special Education teacher from Worcester, MA and I am blessed to be a Catholic convert of 13 years. I have concerns about writing off mindfulness as a technique that is incompatible with Catholicism. I have taken an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) class at the Center for Mindfulness founded by Jon Kabat Zinn – it is only a few miles from my home. I have also practiced and experimented with various meditation techniques for several years. I would like to share a few of my own observations and experiences. I should add that I first began to learn about meditation because I was looking for better ways to handle stress and anxiety.
1) When I took the MBSR class it was clear that a few people were longing to find a more spiritual footing in it. Most people, however, treated it no differently then exercise. As a Catholic, I never felt like my faith was compromised by taking the class or learning the techniques. In my opinion, the exercises are not spiritual in nature and their links to Buddhism are incidental. I wholeheartedly believe that you can separate the techniques from religion or spirituality.
2) My meditation practice, even from the very beginning, had the side effect of leading me into a deeper prayer life. After meditating I often felt drawn to prayer. Meditation allows you to learn ways to quiet your mind, which in turn helps you to listen. In this stillness and quiet I often “hear” a call to prayer.
3) As I’ve practiced these techniques over the years I have gained a deep appreciation for SILENCE. We spend so much of our lives bombarded with noise around us and within our own minds – I think more so now because of the prevalence of technology – and as a result we seem to have lost the ability to listen to the most important voice of all – that of the Holy Spirit within us. I firmly believe that God speaks to us in silence. He speaks to the silence of our heart, our mind, our spirit. It is there that we hear the “still, small voice.” Mindfulness meditation is a great way to cultivate the habit of listening. Every time I meditate it is with the knowledge that I am seeking to be quiet so that I can better hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit.
4) I should also add that I have seen clear health benefits for myself related to combatting depression and anxiety. I see mindfulness in the same category as physical exercise. Both help me to be healthier, and I have a responsibility (given to me by God) to care for my body and mind. Moreover, good mental health goes hand-in-hand with spiritual growth, as it is in our minds and hearts that we grow in our relationship with Jesus.
All that being said, there are dangers to placing mindfulness on a pedestal that it doesn’t deserve. Mindfulness is not my source of peace – Jesus is. My faith is in my Lord – not in a meditation practice. If someone began to think otherwise, I would certainly be concerned. Mindfulness meditation is no substitute for a strong prayer life, spiritual exercises (scripture reading, etc) and devotion to the sacraments.
I’ll end this with my favorite quote from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
“The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of Love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”
This is what I am experiencing and where I am leaning. I also invite the Holy Spirit into my presence as I “meditate” and enjoy the quiet…where I can hear God’s voice.
Dan Shaunessy- Extremely well articulated and thought out. I have had similar experiences. It is refreshing to hear from someone who actually has practiced mindfulness, instead all these others who are misunderstanding something with which they have no actual experience. I understand people fearing to get involved with “dangerous ” , spiritual practices that are possibly harmful. Mindfulness is much more like what many of the saints have in fact, practiced in becoming more present to God!
If you track down the John Hopkins study referenced you will find indeed they concluded moderate improvement in anxiety, depression, and pain. I am not sure why Brinkmann is casting this as a negative. Many drug companies would love to get a moderate improvement (r>.2) in any of those categories.
Catholics should be aware that Buddhism does not recognise the existence of any God,meaning they are essentially atheists.
Catholics however do believe in God, God Incarnate Jesus Christ who says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Why should any Catholic then want anything to do with a belief system whose very foundations are incompatible with basic Catholic doctrine?
btw It is Satan’s best ploy which tells man there is no such thing as God, which in turn leads mankind away from the Truth, I.e Jesus, who alone has the “message of eternal life”.
This is a very interesting discussion. I’d like to offer a bit of wisdom from the 16th Century Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross. His question is very good and directed at the fruit that should stem from any type of Christian meditation. “It amazes me what goes on nowadays. Anyone who does twopence worth of meditation, if they reach a certain quietness and are aware of a train of inner words, baptises it all as coming from God. . . and it will be have been little more than nothing, or nothing, or less than nothing. Because if something does not give birth to humility, and love, and dying to self, and godly simplicity, and silence – what can it be?” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chapter 29, sections 4 and 5)
My name is Dr. Greg Bottaro and I actually have a book coming out on the Catholic practice of mindfulness called The Mindful Catholic. I’m certainly not one of the “big name Catholics” that you may have been referring to in your interview, but I am happy to tell you that I agree there is a moral obligation to put all work as a layperson under the obedient direction of Mother Church. My book has been reviewed by my local Bishop and has received a full endorsement for its Catholic content as well as it’s benefit to the Catholic faithful. Furthermore, I have had my work reviewed by Peter Kreeft, who has written the forward to the book and fully supports and endorses my work. He certainly doesn’t have the authority of my Bishop, but I believe he is a trustworthy authority on unapologetically Catholic Apologetics. In addition to that, I have had my work reviewed by the Definitor council of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers in Rome, who also gave approval to my work. As a result, my course is being used in a number of Discalced Carmelite houses. It seems that your position may be a bit exaggerated.
I for one am always open to dialogue in the areas of disagreement. Though I find that most people who hold similar opinions (on either side of the debate) are typically fueled more by emotion and are less open to reasonable discourse, I continue to make myself available if that is your desire. You may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish. May God bless your work in all you do to lead people to Christ, and may He make your efforts even more fruitful.
Well said! I heard some of Ms. Brinkman’s opinion on EWTN, on “Women of Grace”, a show I usually love. However, having studied and practiced various forms of meditation, before I reconverted to Catholicism, 20 years ago, her comments did not square with my experience and understanding of ‘Mindfulness”. I do not think she understands it, and neither do the vast majority of those commenting against it.I have bought your book and plan on reading it! I hope some of the others here will reconsider and take another look. As i have said in my other comments, I think they would find it is much more consistent with the lives of many great Catholic Saints, they admire ( St. Theresa of Avila, comes to mind). See Anne Marie’s excellent comments on this article.
Many catholics are disturbed by the bigotry in the Roman Catholic Church such as is expressed in some of the above posts. Any practice which encourages silence and reflection has merit and I am sure God can use that to draw people into living selfless,caring lives. I don’t believe that God is so narrow minded as some Roman Catholics seem to be.
(Writing this on my phone, I realized this needed some editing and so I am reposting my corrected addition to this conversation. God bless.)
I really appreciate this conversation. Silence and prayer are beautiful things that lead us to God if they lead us to gratitude and understanding and all things good. To slow down, and be careful, to give everything to God and respect it all as a gift, is a beautiful practice. We cannot escape God, nor would we ever truly want to. The deeper your faith, the more you know God is in charge and you are baffled by how much He loves you and how much he continues to work with you and love you despite your many failings. Any time you practice care in something, truly paying attention and honoring it as important, you practice being mindful in a beautiful way. It is essentially humble and trusts that God loves us and wants good things for us. For instance, becoming aware that my food comes from somewhere real, and that there is often a massive difference in the treatment of some animals over others, one can become mindful of ones choices. We are here to do good and to defend the poor and the marginalized. Without awareness, we cannot be mindful in our choices. There is much good in taking “care” and being care- FULL. Jesus was clearly careful and did not rush into things. But rather sat with them in faith and prayer before God and responded with clarity and truth born of awareness. My faith has only deepened as I have become more consistently mindful. It is really about love and realizing I am loved by God and He wants me here and thinks I am worthy to exist. It has profoundly healed my life. I really appreciate this discussion.
This is an extremely interesting interview. Especially given all the current talk of ‘Mindfulness’ in business and educational organizations. Add to that the Catholic tradition of mysticism, and Thomas Merton’s wannabe-fixation with Buddhism, and all sorts of questions come to mind. Thanks for engaging it.
It is concerning to me how many people are seeking “new” ways for living a “happy, fulfilled life”. As Catholics, we have over 2000 years of spirituality to draw from which has proven to form even the greatest sinners into amazing SAINTS which is what our life is all about…becoming saints in order to build up His Kingdom. Happiness comes from a life centered on Christ which brings us to a life of self-giving and sacrifice. The lives of the saints prove that the techniques they used to draw closer to Christ (Contemplative prayer, Christian Meditation, the Spiritual Exercises)work. If people would focus more of their energy on drawing from this amazing spiritual treasury given to us by the saints, and less on coming up with new and inventive ways to become “more self aware” or be “more mindful of the present moment” in order to be happy, they would become the great saints this world so greatly needs.
I like your comment very much, Margaret.
I agree with what you are saying with one addition. In seriously attempting to emulate some of these saints, you may find what they did has elements of these other traditions, as Anne Marie pointed out earlier in quoting, Theresa of Avila. She is not the only saint, either. Here is a view to consider: “In 2013, Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli, servicing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having worked for over 23 years with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), said that for his Meditation, a Christian can learn from other religious traditions (zen, yoga, controlled respiration, Mantra), quoting Aspects of Christian meditation: “Just as “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,” neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured. It is within the context of all of this that these bits and pieces should be taken up and expressed anew.”” from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga
That’s actually an interpretation of what the CDF said, not an objective presentation of what it said. I addressed Nostra Aetate and On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation on this point here:http://contemplativehomeschool.com/2018/01/13/mixing-catholic-and-eastern-spirituality/
I have suffered from anxiety and depression in the past, and was recommended to try ‘mindfulness’. I saw it straight away for what it was – a thinly disguised attempt to foist Buddhism on the faithful. Coincidentally, a neighbour moved in who is a mindfulness teacher. I had many problems with her, and was appalled at her selfishness, self-absorption and bad attitude in respect to her neighbours. Definitely one of the ‘me, me, me’ generation. Fortunately she no longer lives there. I have read several reports since then that mindfulness can make one self-absorbed and insular. My ex-neighbour is good evidence of that. Worryingly, these ‘mindfulness’ teachers are targeting schools.
What you are describing is not really mindfulness. Mindfulness properly practiced, is the opposite of self absorption! Have you ever known a catholic, who was poor representation of the faith? Yet, they thought they were perfectly correct? Do not judge ” Mindfulness”, based on one person! It is more correctly though of, in how Anne Marie described it above, as very similar to what Teresa of Avila described.
The problem with people is, well, we are human. An imperfect being. We all want to think that what we think and say is the right answer. I believe the Lord knows our intentions. Maybe you should pray on it.
Taken from Wikipedia… enough said.
Nothing like JPII placing a Buddha Idol statue on the altar of the altar at the Cathedral of Assisi or being consecrated and anointed by the Dali Lama. Or joining in the rituals of the Islamic faith at various times.
Partaking in any pagan practices is antichristian behavior, but it is condoned at the highest levels of the Universal One-World-Religion the Bible warned us about. Christ was not of this world, but the RCC is completely a temporal based organization who teaches spirituality in direct contravention to Christ’s explicit instructions.
Heroin addicts can rationalize their own physical demise when faced with the cold hard facts. Most Catholics have no clue to the true history and origins of their religion. I know this because I was born, raised and educated in the RCC and very devout until I was awakened by reading the Bible. No wonder the RCC would persecute those who dared to possess a Bible and not once in my 12 years of Parochial school or in the many adult retreats I attended, did we ever open or read from or even have a Bible present.
“Nothing like JPII placing a Buddha Idol statue on the altar of the altar…” Nothing like it since that’s not what happened.
“Christ was not of this world, but the RCC is completely a temporal based organization…” How to explain, then, why it has lasted for 2,000 years? As quite a few have observed, if the Catholic Church were merely a human institution, it would have imploded and gone away a long, long time ago.
“Most Catholics have no clue to the true history and origins of their religion.” Perhaps. But it’s safe to say that many more non-Catholics have no clue about the historical roots of the Catholic Church. I grew up a Fundamentalist immersed in the sort of Alexander Hislop-ian/Jack Chick-ian claims you make here. A bit of study showed me how silly and false those claims really are.
“not once in my 12 years of Parochial school or in the many adult retreats I attended, did we ever open or read from or even have a Bible present….” So, I take it you never attended Mass? Ever? Huh.
You should do some reading and research about basic mindfulness before you post. It’s obvious that you know very little about it based on the content and tone of your rant, I mean, post.
I think there is an honesty sort of impairment where, we find generic words for some things and try to say they can be Catholic, or they can fit with faith; yet, they do not meet the full demands of faith on the one hand and, on the other, the underlying intention is to create linkbacks and affirm an equalization that’s not true. Following on it is an added dishonesty where we want to impose penalties to enforce falseness.
Prayer is possible in situations of distress. Being composed in order to pray is not a commandment. Grace isn’t confined to those who have control of anxieties. Being touchy about “mindfulness” can carry you outside the bounds of faith and reason. Imposing sanctions to defend untruth, is unjust and sinful.