Primary Passage: Colossians 2:4-10
Secondary Passage: I Corinthians 2:14-16
Recently, my husband was required to attend an Emotional Intelligence workshop that his Human Resources department required for its management team. While he was sitting in the group, they presented mindfulness as a means of stress relief. Suddenly his spiritual antennas of discernment gave him a warning signal with a big exclamation point! He started looking this up on his smartphone, then got up and left. The Holy Spirit's prompting was right. This was Zen Buddhist meditation. He later had a chat with the HR person, who brought this workshop in, alerting her to the religious content and its founder. She quickly realized it would offend a number of employees of many different religious backgrounds, not just Christians. Embarrassed at her lack of understanding of this event, she decided it was inappropriate to continue requiring it across the entire company, which included several locations in other countries. What seemed like a mainstream neutral way of modifying behavior was a Buddhist evangelistic movement our culture has accepted with open arms. The truth is its not compatible with our Christian faith on all levels. We must keep our hearts, minds, and bodies focused on loving God, while living out His Word.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a Buddhist meditative practice, the seventh step of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment, which involves focusing intently on internal and external experiences such as thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sounds, etc. These observations are to be done without judgment with acceptance of those experiences, cultivating compassion and openness toward those experiences, bringing an intentional curiosity and total openness of those experiences, then the return to the present moment, appreciating that moment, according to opponents. It is being taught in the health and fitness venues, schools, and major corporations. Supposedly it helps people to focus on doing one task at a time well, rather than multitasking poorly.
According to Marcia Montenegro, a former New Age practitioner, it actually causes detachment in order to alleviate suffering and attain liberation. Buddhism, with its roots in Hinduism, believes that self does not exist, and in order to reach Enlightenment, the practitioner must break the cycle of suffering by detaching from self. For the Hindu, to reach Nirvana, there must be a break from the cycle of rebirth in reincarnation. The person practicing this meditative practices enters into an altered state of consciousness which leaves him or her very vulnerable for anything to come in, much like in hypnosis.
John Kabat-Zinn, a biomedical scientist with a Ph.D. in molecular biology who studied under Buddhist teachers, is one person driving the Mindfulness movement through the medical community. He is the Professor Medicine Emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical School. He developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program which is appears as a medically based program for companies and schools to help people reduce their stress and become more productive. He also blended this with Hatha Yoga, the one yoga form many yoga instructors claim to be devoid of religion. The MBSR program is what my husband encountered in the workshop where he works. Essentially it is a Buddhist missionary "evangelistic" effort that is sweeping across our country and around the globe.
Another source of the Mindfulness movement promoting by Chade-Men Tan, a Google executive, who wrote the book, "Search Inside Yourself". It is being used in corporations worldwide as a stress reduction training program. His teaching also influences the modern psychological therapeutic movement to address a host of mood and emotional disorders. It is closely linked with the Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy. The Society of Christian Psychology, believes it falls short of accomplishing its goals with patients. They believe Christian Devotional Meditation, known also as Christian contemplative prayer, reflects on the Scripture, the reality of God, and one’s own experience. This practice fills the Christian with the presence of God while being self-aware of an on-going experience. Patients come away with a self-awareness in one's experiences that includes relationship with others and a God-awareness. This relational experience is considered communing with our holy God.
I have seen the MIndfulness practice without knowing it as MSBR in gyms and at karate tournaments. The Yoga Alliance members I have met practiced this form of meditation with an outrageous intensity, the expressions on their faces during their meditation appeared as if ready for war. It was the same facial expression I saw with a group of Kung Fu practitioners meditating at a karate tournament also had this tremendous intensity. Seriously, it was extremely unsettling. If it is supposed to be peaceful, then why so intense? Why would a yoga practitioner need such intensity if they should be at peace? they also exuded an attitude of superiority.
The use of mindfulness in martial arts is intended to keep the martial artist from sensing pain, feeling remorse of inflicting pain, responding immediately, and the insane ability to perform feats like walking on a bed of nails, breaking boards and concrete, and withstanding harsh environments. Our instructor, a Christian, simply taught us to focus on what we were doing rather than performing meditation. This was enough for us to break boards or reduce the sensation of superficial pain, but not detach. It was also enough for students with ADD/HD to learn how to focus their attention better when needed and to respond better in emergency situations. We didn't need to practice Mindfulness to handle what we needed in martial arts. No OMs. No being one with the room. The Mindfulness movement seems to be a detachment from reality and experience, rather than thoughtful and intentional action.The practice of Mindfulness is the foundation of all Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age forms of meditation.
How does this conflict with our Christian faith?
In martial arts, we were taught to focus our attention to avoid harming someone who might accidentally trigger concern over our own physical welfare. By simply focusing our attention to what was happening around us, we could best respond to emergency situations. Other martial artists have told me they were so trained to respond that they hurt or almost hurt a family member who accidentally caused them to think they were under attack when they were not. The difference was a simple focus of one's attention versus the hyperfocus of mental attention to disassociate with self, emotion, and thought, as taught in mindfulness from the Buddhist religion other martial artists learned in their classes. I learned to stop an attack and still have compassionate concern for someone who could harm me. Our instructor showed us there was a very clear difference between biblical teaching and Buddhist teaching.
As believers, we are caught up in the busy-ness of the world, stressed to the max. We believe we are doing the right thing by responding to every need, never saying no to helping at the church or a mission. It seems like the godly thing to do, when in fact, it may be destroying us and our families. The Mindfulness movement may appear to have the answers we need, but God's Word has the true answers for what we need. Many of us have allowed Satan to put a noose around our necks with our overly crowded schedules, cluttered homes, and lives, as we buy into false notions that doing more would please God more. In fact, it simply distracts us from being effective at home, in our churches, and our communities.
We could certainly be mentally and spiritually present in our church services, have less stress, be more productive at work and home, and be at peace more often. The difference is there is an understanding of self, reality of a personal God who is very involved in our world, a Creator who desires to have a relationship with the people He created, the suffering of our Savior for the sins of the world, a rebirth only through Jesus Christ (John 3:1-21) , and the destination of the believer to spend eternity with God and the non-believer to eternal judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). We can also take all of our concerns and anxiety in prayers and petition to God because He cares for us. We can have peace knowing He will answer our prayers (1 Peter 5:7, Ezra 8:23, Philippians 4:5-7). An impersonal force of the cosmos cannot do that. Hyperfocus on our breathing and sensations may take the umph out of our adrenalin rush, but it will not bring us true peace. We have a God who loves us, interacts with us, and a Savior who redeemed us. Knowing this should bring us perfect peace.
We are also called to meditate on the Word of God, the nature of God, His creation, and His amazing love for us. We are called to be convicted of sin not accept it with non-judgmental observation, but we are to consider ourselves with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). We are also called to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) (image from www.freelyphotos.com)
Simply put, it is in opposition to Christian faith. Mindfulness is tremendously focused on self and the experience of the moment in order to alleviate suffering, even though it is supposed to rid one's self of self. It also is supposed to bring a "transcendence" from suffering, but we are supposed to respond to suffering with compassion and action. How can we hurt for what hurts God's heart while we respond with the love of Christ (Matthew 25:39-41)? Jesus never practiced mindfulness when He was tortured and hung on the cross. He wept over Jerusalem in their sin. He felt compassion over crowds who spent all day listening to Him teach because they were sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-37, Mark 6:33-35). Instead of being mindful, we are called to have the Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
According to our passages for this study (Colossians 2:4-10, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16), we are to be rooted and grounded in Christ so that we might not be taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy nor fine sounding arguments, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (v.v. 6-8). We are called to overflow with thankfulness (v.7). We have been brought to fullness, not emptiness, due to the power and authority Jesus Christ has over all things (v.v. 9-10). Everything we know is not from human wisdom, but comes by the Holy Spirit because He knows the mind of God. He helps us understand deep spiritual realities resulting in our having the Mind of Christ (v.v. 6-16). If we spend time in prayer and reflective reading of the Bible we will have deep communion with God. As we grow in our relationship with Him and gain a greater understanding of His Word, we are able to discern great things from God. We will be full to overflowing with a gratitude like no other!
It is through this deep relationship with God that we find peace (stress reduction). We can leave our cares and worries with Him because He cares for us. We are given spiritual gifts and talents to serve Him and others, so we should serve in the areas of ministry which He calls us instead of doing something because no one else will do it. Our families will thrive if we live out His mandates for family relations. Loving others as we love ourselves reduces a lot of conflict, while forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from those we’ve wronged brings peace. If we simply simplify our lives in order to spend time with God and focus our attention to we truly need to do, we will be busy without being overloaded.
What should I do if I encounter Mindfulness?
Good question. When Daniel and his friends were faced with tough decisions regarding their faith, they chose to stand firm accepting the consequences with a deep trust in God. I don't know of any prophets who practiced malicious compliance. The apostles didn’t either. And obviously, Jesus didn’t cave in. I can’t tell you what to do, but I personally see two choices: sit in the workshop but pray and meditate (reflect) on God’s Word, or quietly leave the workshop and face the consequences with management. When asked why you didn’t participate, be ready with an answer for your faith, but do it with respect (1 Peter 3:13-17). Do what you believe is right, but do so that you will have a clear conscience. We are called to be set apart for the Lord, to be holy because He is holy.
May God bless you!
Christian Answers for the New Age (CANA)
Society for Christian Psychology
Time Magazine Special Edition: Mindfulness The New Science of Health and Happiness