For Christians, training in mindfulness has the potential to create the space which ultimately holds the capacity for full communion with God, writes Sr Stanislaus Kennedy RSC
I welcome the publication A Reflection on Mindfulness – Rediscovering the Christian Tradition of Meditation and Contemplation by the bishops’ conference.
It supports mindfulness and recognises that mindfulness, rather than something to be feared, has many benefits and the capacity to awaken a spiritual sense.
It also makes very clear the difference between secular mindfulness and mindfulness meditation based on faith, particularly our Christian Faith. It highlights the various spiritual and meditative practices found in the Christian tradition, their benefits and fruits.
While mindfulness is definitely not a panacea, it does have a wide-reaching application that is not simply confined to stress relief, nor does it conform to the false binary of secular/spiritual. Rather, the potential of mindfulness is far more complex. The Sanctuary’s mission is “changing culture through contemplative practices”.
Mindfulness has been part of the teaching programme at the Sanctuary for the past 20 years, this includes secular mindfulness as well as faith-based mindfulness and meditation, particularly Christian meditation, leading to a more compassionate society.
From a secular perspective (that being in and of the world), the benefits of mindfulness can be experienced within all levels of society. In fact, in Britain, the Mindful Nation Report (2015) is a document that outlines the research and inquiry, undertaken by the all-party parliamentary mindfulness working group, into the relevancy and effectiveness of mindfulness within the health, education, criminal justice, and workplace sectors of society.
We know that mindfulness is not a new concept. Indeed, contemplative practices reside within all wisdom and Faith traditions”
The report states that “mindfulness has the capacity to address some of the larger challenges and opportunities to be found in the domains of health, education, the workplace, and the criminal justice system by tapping into interior resources we all possess but that are mostly undeveloped or underdeveloped in our education system and in our society more broadly, at least up to this point in time”.
We in the Sanctuary believe that the training in mindfulness has the power to provide a route of access into the human capacity for inner resiliency, self-awareness and compassion, which ultimately leads to the flourishing of our societies. We believe that secular mindfulness and faith-based mindfulness are not mutually exclusive and that it is our faith that makes mindfulness and meditation Christian.
Those who have availed of the programmes on secular mindfulness in the Sanctuary speak to us how it has helped them to develop a more mindful way of living and a real sense of being in the present moment and an inner peace even in the midst of chaos and the hectic pace of life. And for many it has opened up a new experience of inner stillness, an inner sanctuary and a whole new faith experience of God’s presence within.
Many have moved on to study and practice Faith-based meditation, particular Christian mindfulness and meditation and developed a real sense of God’s presence in their daily life and a deeper union with God, not just in their prayer and meditation, but throughout their day.
We know that mindfulness is not a new concept. Indeed, contemplative practices reside within all wisdom and Faith traditions, whether they be Buddhist, Judaic, Islamic or Christian.
For instance within the Christian tradition, the practice of deep contemplation and mindfulness or what sometimes can referred to as ‘watchfulness’ can be found in the early teachings of desert fathers and mothers, the stories of the saints throughout the ages and in the cloisters of the monasteries.
In fact, there are many references to the practice of ‘watchfulness’ throughout Christian teachings, such as the famous “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46) passage or the instruction on how to pray from Matthew 6:6: “When you pray go to your private room and when you have shut your door pray to your Father who is in that secret place and your Father who sees all that is in secret will reward you.”
For Christians, training in mindfulness has the potential to create the space and conditions to drop into the purity of each moment, which ultimately holds the capacity for full communion with God.
Mindfulness has multiple applications; however, its strength lies in its accessibility to all walks of life and world views. For Catholics, mindfulness can be a means of enhancing prayer, meditation and contemplative practices while nourishing our relationship with God and ultimately leading to more compassionate communities.
For Catholics, mindfulness can be a means of enhancing prayer, meditation and contemplative practices”
While we can and must distinguish the theoretical between faith-based and secular meditation, the practical work of discernment is much more subtle. Face to face with people, it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to say who enjoys a religious/spiritual experience and who does not. In the Sanctuary we are open to receive anyone who shows an interest.
At first we ask no questions about their beliefs or non-beliefs or about their lifestyle. We simply teach them to sit, to breath, to be present, open and awake. God is there all the time and indeed as William Johnson says “the day might come when these self-styled atheist and agnostics reach the pinnacle of mystical experience, but we must wait”.
Sr Stan is a visionary and social innovator and a member of the congregation of Religious Sisters of Charity since 1958. She is founder and Life president of Focus Ireland.
Click here for Sr Stan’s most recent book