Mindfulness – A ‘Religion’ for the secularised west?
Some years ago, line dancing was all the rage; classes popped up all over the place and it seemed that everyone from the very young to those well past the full flush of youth were stepping it out country and western style. As with all fads it faded, and exists now as a minority activity. I’m inclined to view the present fad for mindfulness in a similar way. The line dancing of the pseudo-psychological and quasi-spiritual world.
Mindfulness has taken off bigtime and chances are we all know somebody who swears by it. Loosely based on Buddhism it has sought to fill a space as a kind of pseudo-religion which is tailor made for the secularised era we find ourselves in. At a time when we daren’t mention God or faith for fear of offending someone all kinds of corporate entities are offering mindfulness sessions to their employees. It is being presented as a cure for everything from depression to eczema. There are even suggestions that it should be introduced to schools – presumably to replace the outmoded religion of the past. Some classes are advertised with the statement ‘No religious content’ obviously aimed at those who have shaken off the shackles of religion. Buddhism and its mindfulness derivative take you within yourself, to meditate inwardly, whereas the Christian meditative tradition call you out of yourself to connect with God and then to reach out to others. What’s missing is the important vital ingredient in Christianity, the command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger etc. It encourages non-judgementalism, viewing everyone in a compassionate spirit, but stops short of actually doing anything for them.
I’m sure it’s nice to spend some quiet time focusing on the now – attending to the breathing etc but it seems to me a little too much like a form of prayer without a God. I have no wish to offend anybody who finds it helpful.
Our own Christian tradition has many wonderful forms of meditative prayer based on centuries old tried and tested techniques. The Spiritual prayer exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola for example offer a beautiful gateway to prayer and meditation and can be used by anyone. In fact they are now adapted for online use at the following (rather long) internet address:
Sometimes what we are looking for can be found in the living tradition of our own faith community.
Fr. Philip Curran