Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spirituality and Mindfulness

I'm going to a two day conference on Mindfulness in Education over the weekend. Susan Kaiser Greenland is the keynote speaker, and I'm looking forward to hearing her. Much of my work with children I've learned from her wonderful book, The Mindful Child.

The conference, though, has me thinking about the connection between mindfulness and spirituality. SKG works out of the tradition of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that was born out of the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, among others. This tradition defines itself explicitly as a secular science so that it might find a home in medical science and in public schools. It attends to the very real physical, measurable effects of mindfulness training, especially the capacity of mindfulness training to reduce stress in our lives. Mindfulness training is directed in almost all traditions first to taming the "monkey mind" that will literally wear us out if we let it.

My practice of mindfulness began, in some sense, with this secular approach. I was simply trying to keep my mind from spinning in a dark time. (See my first post, Getting Started) But I quickly discovered the links between mindfulness training and my own practice of prayer, and as my practice of prayer deepened into contemplative prayer, so did my mindfulness practice deepen. Only when I discovered the practice of mindfulness in the Buddhist spiritual tradition through the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, however, was I able to put a name on the practice of mindfulness and bring it into more explicit connection with my understanding of the spiritual life.

There is a difference between secular practices of mindfulness and those that overtly acknowledge the spiritual reality to which this practice opens us. I don't know how to name this difference, except to say that the spiritual traditions around the practice of mindfulness are always pushing us to open ourselves to something more through the practice. The model from Kabat-Zinn emphasizes stress reduction in the title, and that certainly is a product of mindfulness training, but its only a preliminary stage for spiritual traditions of mindfulness. In the spiritual practice of mindfulness, we try to free ourselves from the stress of life not as an end in itself, but as a means to opening ourselves to something more--to our relationship with creation and, more significantly, to our relationship with the Life in which creation "lives and moves and has its being."

A last thought. However much there is a difference between the spiritual and secular practices of mindfulness, I would also want to emphasize their continuity. Reading through the work of anyone writing about MBSR, you find constant reference to the something more. That's the power of opening yourself to life--you can't help but to be touched by the something more that fills it. For me, this continuity is important for understanding my spirituality. It helps me grasp that the life of the spirit isn't something separate from my embodied life. I'm not delving into the magical or supernatural when I immerse myself in the spiritual. Rather, I'm simply engaging life in its depth dimension. God's creation is one, and the spiritual life exists in a unity with the physical and psychological life. That's so much of the beauty and the mystery of creation.

1 comment:

  1. I just want to thank you sincerely for this lovely and thought-provoking post. I think this is something that the field of mindfulness has always grappled with and something that will continue to come up both in informal and formal venues. I myself came into mindfulness through readings of spiritually-inclined authors and participation in MBSR with a relatively spiritually-inclined teacher (for MBSR anyway). I struggle with how to bring this work to children and caregivers in a way that is most accessible but still open to the spiritual and certainly reverent of the source of the practice. Anyway, thanks for bringing this up! :)