The topic of mindfulness in Irish schools is one which has sparked a considerable amount of public discussion in recent weeks, following criticism by Alphonsis Cullinane, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, of the practice of mindfulness and yoga in Catholic schools.
A document from the hierarchy ‘A Reflection on Mindfulness’ discusses how many believe that all reflective and meditative practices are based on Eastern traditions, but clarifies that “all of the major world religions have meditative traditions”, including Christianity.
The document cites Gospel passages which indicate that Jesus promoted the practice of taking time out for silent and private reflective prayer: “When you pray, go into your private room, shut yourself in…and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:5-6).
In this document the bishops warn that mindfulness should not be presented as a solution to every problem, and that teachers need to be mindful of this, and that children who may have difficulties will at times need therapeutic or medical intervention. Mindfulness, they say, should not be presented as the “sole coping mechanism” in life.
Mindfulness, as a practice, involves the emptying of ourselves of stress and distractions. But with Christian meditation we empty ourselves and then allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Another fear that the document seems to hint at is that through mindfulness one might seek to escape to the “day to day toils of life”, this, the bishops say, is not what matters most in the Christian life, “but rather the depth of our love as a response to God’s intense love for us”.
The ‘Grow in Love’ programme, which is used by most Catholic schools in religious education, “has templates for prayer and meditation moments suitable for children at each level of primary school experience”, the document notes.