You’ve probably heard of “mindfulness.” It’s the broad-brush name increasingly used to refer to a growing variety of mental self-help methods. Along with their popularity come red flags: Do they really help? Are they just about “me?” Are they some form of religion clothed in secular words? Blogs and would-be users evaluate the wide variety of methods almost as if all mental approaches to health are fundamentally the same. But they are not—probably not any more than all pharmaceutical approaches are the same. Distinctions can help.
One distinction for example, might be the difference between the traditional mindfulness of Buddhist (including yoga) meditation and its recent Western adaptations. Buddhist and yoga meditations are exercises in actively and objectively observing one’s own present thoughts and emotions for the purpose of enabling the mind to free itself for higher happiness. Western adaptations of “mindfulness” often refer to various secular mental methods aimed at actually bringing about material reality, namely, wealth and health. “Visualize abundance,” “focus on feeling good,” “decide what you want, then line up your “energy thoughts” that will bring it to pass” are online grab-phrases advertising these methods. They reflect not only their techniques but also their motives.
Individuals sincerely trying to reach beyond physical limits, some church ministries, and even corporations such as Google, increasingly claim positive results from various approaches to mindfulness. Others say “don’t be fooled!” It’s just one more approach to self-gain, a pseudo-spiritual approach to simply more materialism (perhaps the root of even more difficulties), as Melanie McDonagh writes in the Spectator.
Anna North opines in the New York Times of a mindfulness backlash against using the new methods for corporate productivity or self-gain—far from simply freeing one’s own mind. Backlash should not be surprising, since the self-willed pursuit of material gain generally falls short of promised satisfaction and mental freedom.
Another distinction among mental approaches to health and well-being can lead to more successful results—the distinction between secular and non-secular practices. Both Jews and Christians adopt the Bible’s premise of spiritual power over material limits. They believe that this spiritual power is generated by a divine source rather than merely by the human mind. The Bible, at times, even refers to this source as “Mind”– “He is in one mind and who can turn him”? Although specific doctrines vary, their common mindfulness ideal is to yield to the wisdom and purpose of the Divine. Secular practices, instead, tend to rely upon their own human, mental projection to achieve their self-determined goals.
In my own practice of Christian prayer (which some see as one form of mindfulness), rather than try to project mental energy of my own to create a material result, I acknowledge an already-operating Mind and admit myself and all others to be the outcome, or spiritual image, of that Source–as in “So God created man in his own image …”
This enables me to start mentally from a different place—that of being already blessed with the harmonious condition of this Mind, as a child is already blessed with attributes of his father and mother. “Our Father” – the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer—comforts me with this sense of inheritance, as do Jesus’ many other references to his Father as the source of his health and abilities.
Here’s how this Mindfulness practice helped me through a very difficult time. After losing a personal relationship of some years as an adult, I was battling serious depression. I found that any attempt to merely contemplate positive thoughts about myself to remove the regret didn’t really work. But changing my base of thinking–being mindful of myself not as the contemplator but as the contemplation of this one loving divine Mind–gave me a different mental starting point that genuinely replaced depression with a stronger outward sense of completeness, love and joy for all involved.
This higher, uplifting state of mind came beautifully on its own without my needing to mentally project it. It did require a Mindfulness of persistently yielding to the spiritual starting point of being Mind’s image, but it was a definite transformation that had nothing to do with visualizing a desired human scenario. In fact, I felt more warmly connected with that individual as a result than I believe I could have visualized on my own.
Anyone who is struggling to overcome a tough life challenge needs support and compassion –– regardless of what form of mindfulness he might choose.
There is always a way through that challenge. Mindfulness offers options with different methods, aims, and results. For results that include an “us-as-well-as-me” blessing—and one that surpasses our own would-be outline—it’s worth considering the distinction between “mindfulness” and “Mindfulness.”