While the Church must always proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ, she nonetheless also affirms all that is true and holy in other religions and philosophical systems (see Nostra Aetate #2). In regards to meditation, I will take this principle of Catholic doctrine a step further. I would propose that all that is good, true, and beautiful in the meditative traditions of East Asian religions and in contemporary secular sciences can be found within the riches of a shared Christian patrimony, one that encompasses both Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
In this sense, the profound insights provided by mindfulness meditation are an important opportunity for dialogue and mutual enrichment. Contemporary psychology has promoted a notion of mindfulness which involves the intentional cultivation of a non-judgmental awareness of reality. Psychology is discovering incredible benefits that accompany the active pondering of one’s interior life and the interconnection between sense perception, experience, and one’s interiority.
While not formulated in precisely the same language, there are many similar concepts that exist within Christianity, particularly within the monastic tradition. In the East, a thoroughly Christian mindfulness seems to be implied in the idea of watchfulness. In a similar stream of thought, Western monasticism had a similar notion that was expressed in terms of recollection. What can be confusing to many contemporary audiences, both Christian and non, is that the kind of awareness expressed by these terms is generally assumed and not explored in great detail.
Thus, the life of a monastery assumes a certain amount of interiority and introspection by its way of life.
Furthermore, cultivating watchfulness and recollection was a means to an end, and in many ways, simply a preparation for the full flowering of prayer. We can take a powerful lesson from this and realize that before we begin to ponder scripture in lectio divina or before we engage in other forms of formal meditation, we must take steps to cultivate interior stillness and make ourselves available to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Often, we fail to transition from the busy pace of life into the silence of meditation, and failure to do so can cause much stress and needless struggle.
With this in mind, I believe that all Christians are called to cultivate “mindfulness.” I think that the work of Dr. Gregory Bottaro, the Catholic Psych Institute, and other faithful Catholic and Christian Institutions are doing great work in helping folks do the necessary psychological work needed to connect with Jesus.
In trying to discern if a Catholic or Christian counselor is properly understanding how mindfulness therapy can be integrated into our relationship with Jesus Christ consider the following statements:
1) Grace builds on nature. Your psychological health should lead you to virtuous living, obedience to the commandments of God, and greater interpersonal flourishing. In short, any therapy should lead you to Jesus Christ.
2) The natural benefits of mindfulness should lead to spiritual benefits such as greater attentiveness to Scripture and the Church.
3) All prayer must be centered on Jesus Christ or “Christocentric.” This means that we should never set aside our relationship with Jesus Christ for impersonal techniques… Meditation should always be Christian in that it is grounded in a relationship with Jesus Christ and that it leads to increases in faith, hope, and love.
To those who might have concerns about mindfulness, I offer the following to consider:
1) Studies show that these therapeutic techniques are good for you. Natural goods are not destroyed by our relationship with Jesus Christ, but rather elevated, purified, and oriented towards Christ through the work of grace.
2) The therapeutic technique is really simple, and it almost seems common sense. It is a good idea to “look” and “understand” one’s body and one’s experience. By doing so, one is able to help undo the stress, tension, and thought traps that get expressed in the body. There is a relationship between our interior life and our bodies. Emotions have a physical component and exploring the physical side of our interior life can aid us in cultivating recollection or stillness. While not talked about much in the West, such integration is talked about at length by the Eastern Orthodox and particularly Archbishop Kallistos Ware (whose work I recommend).
Let’s continue the conversation on social media… does this answer your questions? Do you have any other questions?