Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Religious and Spiritual Perspectives on Mindfulness

Photo by Flickr from Pexels
Updated February 18, 2020

by Catharine Hannay

Over the past few years, I've been fascinated and disturbed by the false assumptions made by many people of faith and many secular mindfulness teachers. 

To give just a couple of examples:

  • a secular teacher was quite dismissive about Christian parents objecting to their kids saying 'Namaste' at the end of yoga practice (update: a day after posting this, I saw an interesting perspective on cultural appropriation of 'namaste');
  • a Christian blogger got very upset that "Breathe" by Jonny Diaz was referred to as a mindfulness song. She insisted that it can't really be a mindfulness song because it's Christian. (It's a lovely song, by the way. I included it on the All About the Breath playlist and the Sign Language playlist.)

The truth is, some people practice mindfulness (and complementary practice like yoga) in an entirely secular way. Others have a faith-based approach to mindfulness. And many people derive the same benefits from prayer and traditional religious practices.

Whenever tensions are running high, it might be useful to let go of the term mindfulness and focus on contemplative practices, instead. I think we can all agree that contemplation is possible in either a secular or religious context.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society created this wonderful Tree of Contemplative Practices to show the many different ways we can tap into our inner wisdom.

image copyright The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

We tend to equate 'mindfulness' with only one branch of the tree. Stillness: meditation, silence, quieting the mind, and centering.

But most mindfulness teachers actually incorporate practices from several different branches of the tree: deep listening, lovingkindness meditation, various types of mindful movement, and so on. 

Likewise, we tend to associate religion with only ceremonies and rituals. But every major religion incorporates several other branches of the tree, including storytelling, music, and serving our communities.

It behooves us all to think deeply about our own traditions and preferences, as well as the assumptions we might be making about other groups and individuals.

I hope you find the following resources useful for exploring the many different perspectives on mindfulness and contemplative practices. 

Interfaith Perspectives

Jewish Perspectives

Buddhist Perspectives

Christian Perspectives

posts by Dr. Irene Kraegel, author of The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith:
  • Can Evangelical Christians Practice Mindfulness?“Some evangelical Christians have visceral reactions to mindfulness – it is also true that some mindfulness practitioners have visceral reactions to evangelical Christians. We are too often reacting to caricatures of one another rather than taking the time to actually know one another’s perspectives.
  • How Christians Can Benefit from Mindfulness Practice“God is always in the present moment -- joining Him there allows us a deeper level of spiritual rejuvenation than can be found by rushing mindlessly through each day or simply “talking at” Him in prayer.
  • Mindfully Meditative Christian Practices: "Contemplative practices related to present-moment awareness have been nurtured by Christians throughout the centuries as avenues for connection with God. Recently, a number of these practices have become particularly common – while not identical to traditional, formal mindfulness practice, they have significant overlap with the practice of mindfulness meditation. "
  • What Does the Bible Say About Mindfulness and Compassion? : a selection of specific passages from the psalms and the Gospels.

You may also be interested in Secular and Spiritual Perspectives on Gratitude, which has quotes from Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Humanist sources.

And there are many more resources on practicing and teaching mindfulness at www.mindfulteachers.org/p/mindfulness-resources.html

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of MindfulTeachers.org and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance.