Newsletter 567 – Should You Care About Mindfulness?

If I tried choosing the two hottest emerging topics among mental health professionals these days, probably I’d select the focus on how the brain works (see last week’s newsletter) and the fascination with mindfulness. Two very different publications recently featured articles on Mindfulness. Time (February 3, 2014) suggests that “we’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness.” Harvard Business Review (March , 2014) describes “mindfulness in the age of complexity,” then shows that “by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on autopilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance. Neither article has much depth but they show how mindfulness has become something of a fad in the places where we live, work, lead, teach and seek to impact others. Even the U.S. Air Force has a recruiting advertisement for clinical psychologists with these prominent words: Meditation, Relaxation. Deep Breathing. Your Arsenal is More Powerful than you Think. That suggests mindfulness. (American Psychologist, March-April, 2014, Back cover.)

Mindfulness 1Mindfulness is the process of focusing on the present moment, giving full attention to what you are doing in the present and being less caught up in what happened earlier or what’s to come. The HBR article mostly is a listing of all the magical implications and effects of meditation and other mindfulness methods. Time suggests that the popularity comes, in part, from those who promote and market the mindfulness revolution. But the movement keeps growing because an increasing body of respectable research, including studies of the brain, gives evidence that mindfulness does, indeed, live up to many of its claims.

Initially I shied away from mindfulness because of it’s Buddhist roots but then I thought of other apparently useful fields and methodologies that spring from humanism, secular research, and other foundations that in no way are Christian. Some of the mindfulness commentary on meditation sounds like biblical commands to meditate. But biblical writers tell us to meditate on God and his word whereas secular approaches have a different focus. We can use secular based approaches providing we keep aware of the reasons we use them. What are the Christian implications of all this, especially relating to counseling and to leadership? Please comment, including your recommendations for further study or reading.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this opportunity to comment.

    Those who want me to remain mindful of my present, to perform better for them, remain themselves occupied with the past and with the future.

    They know how the recent past leads to the present and do not want me to understand their motives. They know that their mythologies concerning the distant past cannot be sustained scientifically and do not want me to doubt those myths.

    They know what is the near future that they want me to make happen for them, receiving only in their ephemeral approbation. They envision a far future to which my children will not survive, in which they themselves will me immortalized, and do not want me to live for an alternate future.

    So my mindfulness, ripped out of the past and from the future, makes me a servant of others. Only my know my origins and the human past can I es capt from its consequences. Only by my hope in a certain future can I determine another present for me and for mine.

    Thus I shall remain mindful of my past, my present and my future, even if I prove unacceptable to those who employ social sciences to create for themselves a society in which I would not be welcome.

    Reply

    1. I wonder if the people who focus on mindfulness have the motives that your comments imply?

      That said, I agree that the past and future cannot be ripped away. And we need to have that focus on things above and things eternal. But I think the mindfulness folks are really saying than in a world of so many competing influences there is value in putting everything aside for a time and dwelling on the present. Certainly Christians can do that. It is keeping focus, even on a regular basis, in a world where we can so easily get pulled in so many directions and slide into frenzy and the multitasking that is so much less productive than we tend to think. Pulling away and focusing on the attributes of God, for example, might come under the definition of mindfulness (even though the mindfulness concept rarely focuses on the things of God)

      Reply

  2. Whenever I consider mindfulness, or teach it to clients or students in my Bible study classes, I am presently aware of the apostle Paul’s recommendation to focus our hearts and minds on things above. I believe when we do that, at least it happens to me, the Holy Spirit convicts me to righteous thoughts, and then I have to choose whether to allow that influence or the influence of evil, i.e., my own selfish desires. To me that is the application of the principle of mindfulness in a nut shell. Thank you Gary for highlighting this misunderstood concept. To me it is fundamental of the Christian life, as in the mind is where it begins and ends.

    Reply

    1. Good stuff Dan. Somebody needs to write an informative, biblical, research sensitive, scholarly but readable (if somebody can put these two things together) treatment of mindfulness from a Christian perspective. Do you or anybody know anybody who has done this? Maybe that is you.

      Reply

      1. I am currently studying/researching the origin of mindfulness from the time of Noah to the Chinese (who seem to get all the credit for this principle). I have been teaching on the subject of mindfulness using Ro 12:2; Col 3:2, 1 Pet 3:11…,and other scriptures.. I think Buddha learned it from Noah’s great, great, great grandchildren.

  3. Gary: Don Lichi here. I’ve been doing a series here at Emerge especially for our young clinicians on the topic of Spiritual Formation and the Healing of the Mind with particular focus on research related to dualism of spirit mind and brain. Of course a purely naturalistic focus trends to a solely neuronal origin of mind rather than action of spirit or Spirit on mind which influences brain. Thx for your comments I read two articles in popular media related to mindfulness in the same week prior to my last lecture I’m doing better re cancer. Not cured but in substantial remission. Actually ran half marathon in Sept and ministry in Malawi in Oct. God is so merciful Don Lichi Dlichi@aol.com

    Sent from my iPhone

    Reply

    1. What a wonderful message from you Don. I am so glad to read about your health. And I am not surprised that you are thinking creatively again and even running marathons. Next time you are in Chicago we need to find a way to get together again.

      Reply

  4. Hello Gary: I appreciate your weekly blogs and who you are.

    I teach mindfulness to clients as a concept and intervention to use to build balance and stability. Although it does have Buddhist roots, I liken mindfulness to Christian spiritual formation concepts of solitude and meditation. Brother Lawrence, for example, comes to mind with his “practicing the presence of God.” Ultimately, all truth is God’s truth and we as Christians can be critical thinkers and discern what is helpful versus what is not helpful. Blessings.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s