In his classic work, The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola seems to lay out a method of meditation that bears striking similarities to mindfulness as it is being promoted by contemporary psychologists.
The exercise of St. Ignatius I am referring to can be found in the notes of the 4th Week of the retreat. In this section, he refers to “Three Methods of Prayer.” In the first method, he outlines a series of meditations on the ten commandments, the seven capital sins, the three powers of the soul, and the five senses respectively.
I would like to focus on the five senses.
We should begin by noting that the application of this particular part of the exercises is not clear from the text itself. In future research, I will consult with commentaries, but for now I offer this possible hypothesis. Perhaps, this a form of “Christian” or “Catholic” Mindfulness.
Why do I believe this? First, within its context in the exercises, this meditation on the five senses is very much an exploration of our sense experience. We might argue the same for the meditation on the seven capital sins, but I believe that such an exercise would bear a great similarity to the “body-scan” of mindfulness meditation.
For those who may not be familiar with the body scan. In its most basic sense, psychologists have found that a simple non-judgmental attentiveness to one’s body, when accompanied by gentle breathing, can help reduce the biomarkers of stress and guide practitioners to a more rested state. Psychologists have found that this can be a great benefit in therapy and in promoting mental health.
In the spiritual exercises, the three methods of prayer have sections that promote rhythmic breathing and what seems to be an awareness of the body vis-a-vis the “five senses.” Thus, both St. Ignatius and contemporary psychologist seem to be on to the same thing.
Second, within the context of St. Ignatius’ larger spirituality, the goal of said exploration is to cultivate spiritual freedom or indifference. Thus, implied within the text is that as one explores and is aware of the five senses, this in turn prepares the heart for the other spiritual goals of the retreat.
This places the meditation on the five senses very much within the same kind of framework that is being argued by Dr. Gregory Bottaro and myself. Mindfulness or awareness of our physical body and the sensations that arise help us in our relationship with Jesus Christ and are a great aid in discernment.
Does this make sense? (no pun intended haha)