Newsletter #488 – Does Mindfulness Matter?

Tucked into my bookshelves I have several books from the seventies written to attack Christians (me included) who were working in psychology. We were called psychoheretics and speakers of psychobabble, involved in undermining the Christian community by smuggling secular humanism and other non-biblical philosophies into churches and seminaries. Most of these attackers are gone but they raised an issue that has relevance for people builders and people leaders today: is it unhealthy or dangerous to use methods built on beliefs that are non-Christian or even anti-Christian?

Consider coaching as an example. We do coaching without thinking that its core principles build on humanism, Buddhism, American business practices and a belief that answers to our problems reside within apart from any need to acknowledge or depend on God. Mindfulness is a bigger example. An article in Monitor on Psychology (July/August 2012) describes a “tremendous surge in the popularity” of mindfulness and notes how this has “moved from a largely obscure Buddhist concept to a mainstream psychotherapy construct today.” Is this a modern form of psychoheresy and psychobabble or is it a useful concept for reducing stress, increasing focus and mental clarity, and building better leaders? Here are three guidelines for evaluating or using methods based on non-Christian foundations.

  • Know its meaning, methods, claims and demonstrated effectiveness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation involving a moment-to-moment focus on the present without rumination or judgment. Advocates claim numerous benefits, some of which have been demonstrated to be effective. The Monitor review is more cautious, indicating that evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness is still limited, even though quality research continues.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions, uncritically embracing what is popular or quickly rejecting what is new. Remember that God has given us a lot that is used for good even though it comes from non-Christian sources. Medical practices are examples.
  • Ask yourself if the techniques are consistent with your values, core beliefs and ethical standards. Can you overlook the foundation assumptions and use the methods without risking harm or compromising your Christianity? If in doubt, wait until you have clearer perspectives.

What is your attitude about mindfulness or other debatable techniques? Please comment.

To know more about mindfulness watch Jon Kabat-Zinn give a google talk on the subject – click here

13 Comments

  1. Classic Christian theology understood that all mental techniques arise from the image of God in mankind, even though fallen humans attribute the same to their gods or philosophies. Thus the origins remain in God whilst purposes and applications err. Our objective is to bring every thought and imagination into captivity to Christ, not to stop minding. or have I erred?

    Reply

  2. A father dutifully instructs his daughter that she is outside of the will of God for leaving home without his blessing. A neuthetic counselor, this same man, pastor of an evangelical-free church, finds that his wife, sexually abused as a teenager, is outside both the will of God and his own dictates as leader of the family for seeking counseling from a biblical counselor he doesn’t approve of. Just as much damage has been crafted by those who call themselves biblical counselors than by secular therapists who never inquire whether spirituality is something important and/or necessary to explore with clients. Certainly, Freud’s psychosexual stages are anything but biblical, but even he contributed to our understanding of unconscious motivations for the things people do and don’t do – something I contend the apostle Paul did with his angst-filled description of his own failure to not understand why he did things he didn’t want to and why he didn’t do what he knew he should do. So, yes, there are techniques that we as Christians should consider when working with clients. Perhaps doing so is as simple as prayerfully asking for God’s guidance. Surely that’s something we as Christians have to our advantage: A direct line to God’s divine directive.

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    1. Scott your last point about being prayerful says it all. That is our greatest guide as to what is or isnt appropriate. Thanks for the timely reminder

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  3. Gary thanks for this. I have often wondered about this and had struggles with it as well. The modality I have most struggle with is NLP it really challenged my core beliefs. However I have been able to look past that with some good coaching and see how it can be used to best effect to be in the service of the client. One of the good things from NLP is about perceptual positioning and it is that concept I used to determine what is in the best service of the client and I think that approach has some benefit for what you speak about. I have studied Positive Psychology in my Masters programme and my conclusion was it is biblically sound its just that they have lost sight of the origin. As Christians our role is to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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  4. Thinking about these things always brings my back to the Scripture – “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” in 1 Thes 5:21-22 and other places. Prayerful study; careful use….

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  5. Great newsletter for getting me thinking about this again Gary – thank you.

    Over the years I have found a number of good and useful tools, concepts, frameworks that I have used that did not originate for me from an obvious Christian source. I am a Christian and secondly a mediator/coach/facilitator/teacher and work at keeping my efforts in the latter areas in synch with my beliefs in the former.

    I have found over the years that I can “slot” most of the new concepts and ideas that I find into one of three categories – 1. those that are clearly biblically based/consistent, 2. those that are neither clearly confirmed nor rejected and 3. those that “fly in the face” of biblical principles as I understand them with the Spirits help.

    It has been most useful to use this simple framework in deciding what I will use or what i will not. For me it is not so much a question of where I heard it, read it or was exposed to it but rather how do the concepts/ideas fit or not when stacked up against the teachings of the Bible.

    I am often surprised, and probably shouldn’t be, how closely aligned with the Bible the best and most useful ideas are.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Jack. This is a good comment – concise and helpful. I too have been amazed at how much good mental health practices and good Biblical concepts align. I found this when I wrote the big yellow Christian Counseling book.

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  6. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A number of my blog audience have complained about my website not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any solutions to help fix this issue?

    Reply

  7. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so
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    Reply

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