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Mindfulness or the mind of Christ

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Cultural apologist and church leader Dr Joe Boot critiques the practice of 'Mindfulness'.

The Christian apologist of the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, noted the existential reality that the human condition was one of inconstancy, boredom and anxiety. For him, the only real cure was made known in history by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The solution to man’s condition was the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, who declared: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). 

For those in Christ, we are assured of a peace that passes human understanding in place of our anxiety and inconstancy: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The human malady hasn’t changed since Pascal described it, and neither has the promise of Christ. Nonetheless, the numerous quack remedies for what is the direct result of man’s alienation from God have persisted and are experiencing a massive renewal in popularity in our time.

The challenge society faces when Christ’s gospel is rejected is, how are man’s fears and anxieties, evil thoughts, desires and destructive impulses to be addressed and overcome? In keeping with the overall direction of Western cultural life in this century, our social order has been turning back to paganism for answers. A conspicuous example of this is the sweeping popularity, in every stratum of society, of Mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness is no longer the preserve of Tibetan monks – it is now mainstream. So much so, that the CBC radio show The Current did a programme on the popularity of Mindfulness and its widespread use in schools across Canada, including extensive use of these techniques in Toronto schools – in part as an attempt to reduce the massive suicide rate among youth. Some teachers are spending solid class time in meditation with students and some schools are having a school-wide Mindfulness minute every day, where students adopt a Mindfulness posture, do a breathing control exercise and turn their palms up at the sound of the chime. Moreover, all new doctors coming through McGill Medical School in Montreal are being trained in mindfulness techniques in hopes of holistically treating depression and anxiety.

So what is Mindfulness? Simply put, it is a Buddhist meditative technique. At bottom, this practice cultivates the realisation of an experience described as ‘cessation’ in which mental afflictions are removed because the illusion of the ‘self’ is uprooted. In his recent book, Beyond Religion, the Dalai Lama asserts that the human problem is inner dissatisfaction and the negative emotions that arise from this, spilling over into social relationships. Mindfulness, he claims, enables us “to gain a measure of control over our emotions as a step toward developing a calm mind” (p. 127). He resists going into all the metaphysical beliefs behind this, but the goal is that the mind ultimately is freed, not simply from distraction, but from thought itself.

For some, a more surprising contributor to this pagan revival is the rabid atheist, Sam Harris. His support for this practice is seen in his latest book, Waking Up, in which he reveals that he is experienced and practised in the art of Mindfulness. Having studied for a number of years under various Buddhist experts in meditation and even done lengthy retreats seeking ‘cessation,’ Harris is a committed pagan – though he would resent the term. Paganism and atheism are natural bedfellows, and humanistic scientists seem particularly susceptible to the promises of pagan thought, which offer spirituality without God. 

Harris goes on to say: “I’ve spent many years practising meditation, the purpose of which is to cut through the illusion of the self.” 

Harris believes that the instruction of one of his Buddhist masters in doing this was, “without question, the most important thing I have ever been explicitly taught by another human being. It has given me a way to escape the usual tides of psychological suffering – fear, anger, shame – in an instant” (p. 137). 

Freedom, on this view, is found in a realisation that pure consciousness is all that is (i.e. you are consciousness), and the way to escape the human condition is to realise that subject-object dualism is an illusion, and all your anxiety is merely a transitory appearance of consciousness. Moreover, there is no true “I”, and this realisation liberates us from any sense of sin, shame, fear or even desire. 

Salvation, then, is the death of man and the real world. Thus, the pursuit of mindfulness in the schools, business world, or on the yoga mat is the cultivation of death and the eradication of personhood. The biblical view of salvation could not be more removed from this pagan quackery. In biblical faith, God is not pure consciousness, but a divine, relational, triune community of persons, where intellect, love and will are fully actualized. Man, being made in God’s image, is a person, a real individual, and this individuality is the basis for true community, bringing the experience of unity within real diversity.

Our minds are not fragments of pure consciousness, but each an individual aspect of created spiritual reality, embodied in the human person. Our problems are not only metaphysical – that we are alienated from pure consciousness. The human problem is moral. Our problem is sin. 

The cure for our anxiety, fears and evil desires is not the cessation of self. The cure is in facing ourselves and our sins, and by repentance and faith being reconciled to God. In fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, where perfect love casts out fear. The rule of God in our lives is productive of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, who is with us forever. 

Related News:
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Related Coverage:
Mindfulness study to track effect of meditation on 7,000 teenagers (Guardian)