Sunday, September 15, 2019

Can Christians Practice Mindfulness? (That's the Wrong Question.)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


by Catharine Hannay


A couple of years ago I attended a webinar on teaching mindfulness to kids, and the instructor kept telling us: 


Why not? 

"Christians will object."

I found this quite frustrating, since I know Christian mindfulness teachers who do all of those things. 

It's not that the advice was bad in and of itself. Mindfulness teachers need to be aware of any potential religious concerns, especially if they teach at public schools. 

What bothered me was the overgeneralization about Christians. 

I've been contacted a couple of times by schools who were asked by Christian parents to stop teaching mindfulness. Interestingly enough, in both cases the person contacting me was herself a Christian. So it wasn't really a secular vs. Christian issue, but more a matter of certain Christians having a very different perspective from other Christians.

I've met all sorts of Christians who practice mindfulness: Orthodox, Catholic, and both conservative and liberal Protestants. And there are actually quite a lot of Christian mindfulness teachers.

On the other hand, some mindfulness teachers are afraid to mention that they're Christian because of potential criticism by secular mindfulness students or by fellow Christians.



Possible Concerns of Christian Students or Their Parents


Many teachers have a positive response from Christians after they explain the secular nature of the practice and share some of the scientific research. On the other hand, some Christians may equate the word 'secular' with unwholesome 'worldly' influences. 

Many (but certainly not all) Christians worry that meditation involves 'emptying the mind.' Or they think mindfulness is a type of self-help, and believe that's inappropriate for them because all help should come from God. 

Other Christians don't object to mindfulness in and of itself. They object to traditional Buddhist or Hindu phrasing, like referring to 'sentient beings' or saying 'Namaste' at the end of a yoga practice.



Questions to Aid in Communication

Here are a few questions that might help facilitate communication between mindfulness teachers and Christians who are concerned that mindfulness conflicts with their beliefs. 


Suggested Questions to Ask Concerned Students or Their Parents
  • What does the word 'mindfulness' mean to you? 
  • Why are you concerned that our mindfulness classes will conflict with your beliefs?
  • Are you objecting to the whole program, or is there a specific activity or type of meditation you're concerned about?
  • Would it be helpful if I explained the benefits of mindfulness?
  • Would it be helpful if I sent you some links about the scientific research on mindfulness?
  • Would it be helpful if I explained how some Christians integrate mindfulness with their faith?

Suggested Questions for Concerned Students or Their Parents to Ask about Mindfulness Classes
  • What does the word 'mindfulness' mean to you?
  • Why did you decide to start offering mindfulness classes at our school? What do you hope will be the result?
  • What type of training do you have? Have you taught Christian students before?
  • What types of meditation and other activities will be included in the mindfulness lessons? 
  • Is it possible to opt out of all or some of the mindfulness lessons? If a student opts out, what will he or she be doing while everyone else participates in the lesson?
  • If I'm not comfortable with certain phrasing or a specific type of meditation, would it be possible to use alternate phrasing or a different mindfulness practice?



Conclusion: Where There's Good Will, There's a Way


I heard from a school staff member who was nervous about an upcoming meeting with a parent who wanted to pull her son out of the mindfulness lessons. Afterwards, she told me, 
"The meeting went well. We sat and listened to each other's point of view. I was happy I had done my research and reading [on the benefits of mindfulness]. 
In the end, the mom has still opted to let [her son] read while the other kids do their breathing or mindful moment... 
I understood where she was coming from and was happy that she gave me an opportunity to share my views and experience with mindfulness."

Note that in this case "the meeting went well" and the mother didn't change her point of view about mindfulness. What did change was her feeling that the school was respectful of her beliefs and responsive to her concerns. 


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related posts:  

Five Common Misunderstandings About Christians and Mindfulness

How Christians Can Benefit from Mindfulness Practice

What Does the Bible Say About Mindfulness and Compassion? 

How Christians and Buddhists Can Teach Each Other About Mindfulness

Can Evangelical Christians Practice Mindfulness?