What are we Catholics to do when someone suggests we practice Mindfulness?
You see this word a lot lately, even Time Magazine recently had a whole issue dedicated to Mindfulness as a path to happiness.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness defined this way was how a practicing and very faithful Catholic explained it to me. She shared that this technique has helped her with her obsessive tendencies that can send her emotions overboard. By making note of how a text, email or comment made her feel without judging herself, she is able to keep her emotions in check.
Mindfulness is also defined as a Buddhist spirituality in which one meditates in order to empty oneself and in the practice of it, achieve self-awareness. This is incompatible with the Catholic faith which calls us instead to place ourselves in the Presence of God so as to grow in awareness of who our loving Creator and Father has created us to be.
When my Catholic friend initially brought up mindfulness, I dismissed it quickly as New Age, but that was wrong of me. Her explanation opened my understanding of not only the multiple definitions of mindfulness, but also how we should not judge a meaning based simply on a word.
This experience reminded me that as a Catholic, I am not to just accept what is being offered nor am I to dismiss without consideration. Instead, I am to listen and discern.
The Apostle, St. Paul, is a master of discernment and can teach us much in how to differentiate between New Age, other spiritualities and the Fullness of Truth; which is Jesus Christ as revealed through His Catholic Church. St. Paul teaches us to, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
We test everything by discerning the source; is it human, a spirit, or is it God? St. Paul teaches, “See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity, bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power,” (Colossians 2:8-11).
If, as with my Catholic friend, we are using mindfulness as a tool to remain in the present moment, this is good. Ignatian Spirituality, a time-honored practice of the Church, tells us that the present moment is where God is and where his grace exists for us to receive. If in this present moment we praise God for who He is and for who He has created us to be, this is Divine and worthy of our attention.
If, however, we discover in listening that we are being advised to consider a mindfulness spirituality that calls us to look inward, focus on self and empty ourselves, we should instead use this as an opportunity to evangelize. Often it is out of ignorance and a hope for inner peace that we fall into deceptions. We are not to judge the person, but certainly admonish in kindness so he or she does not continue to be misguided. The best way is to ask lots of questions as this draws the person into discernment as words are put to thought. With your questions, you have a wonderful opportunity to guide them from what they may think is a path to happiness on to the Way, our Lord Jesus Christ, The Path to Happiness.
God has placed each of us in this time and in this culture for a reason and we do not have any reason to be afraid. Living Catholicism means to grow in faith as we try and live it out in the people we encounter and in the circumstances we find ourselves. In these moments and in all moments, we are to remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit and as our Lord Jesus tells us, “…do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say” (Matthew 10:19).
Nan Balfour is Events Coordinator at Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization apostolate in Today’s Catholic newspaper. Answering Christ’s call, we guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.