Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together


The Christian Practice of Mindfulness

posted by Linda Mintle

Last night I conducted a live webinar for the American Association of Christian Counselors on the topic of treating Borderline Personality Disorders (BPD). The gold standard of treatment for BPD is a therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is an effective therapy that teaches a core skill of mindfulness among a host of other skills.

However, the type of mindfulness being trained in most practice centers and academic institutions is incompatible with Christian theology.

When mindfulness is referenced in mental health and medical literature, it is usually based on some form of Buddhist philosophy or religion. And while there are many forms of Buddhism, there are basic tenets common to all. Buddhists believe that the visible world is constructed by the present moment. As one attends to the moment in focused concentration, the mind is calmed by closing off sensory outlets and becoming more alert. It is then that the inner life opens, a person is transformed and wisdom comes.[1] The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, the perfect state of mind, a radical reordering of consciousness and new awareness that is an absolute truth to be realized. It is in this consciousness where suffering ceases and rebirth occurs.[2] The path involves virtue, mental development and wisdom.

While the definition of mindfulness in psychotherapy is not anti-Christian and usually refers to self-regulation and present moment orientation, the practice of Buddhist based mindfulness is problematic for Christians. In Buddhism, one empties the mind which means one is detached from all thoughts. Thoughts are not to be judged. Yet the New Testament refers to the mind as evil (2 Cor 3:14; 2 Cor 4:4; 2Tim 3:8; Rom 1:28) in need of renewal. Our thoughts are important and will be judged as Jesus noted in Matthew 5:28. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that nothing good lives in us (Romans 7:18). In other words, our unenlightened minds are not capable of enlightenment on their own. And while mindfulness practice may relieve stress, it does bring wholeness to the person because it does not bring life to the spirit. True rest comes from the person of Christ (Matt 11:28) and cannot be imitated through self-effort.

For Christians, mindfulness is an active process between God and man. God is mindful of us (Psalm 8:4; Hebrews 2:6) and we are to put on the mind of Christ. To do so, we meditate on who God is and listen to Him in prayer. Daily, we renew our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.(Roms 12:2), love God with all our mind (Matt 22:37) and implant God’s laws into our minds (Heb 8:10). Meditation is a way to connect with God, to cling to God, to listen for His voice and to align our thinking to His. This creates greater intimacy not detachment.

‘Cease striving and know that I am God.” is our biblical instruction. And the prescription for peace is provided in Phil 4:4-9 and needs to be taught—pray, give thanks, let our requests be known to God and meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. The result of this spiritual practice is God’s peace (v. 9).


 


[1] Encountering Buddhism:  western psychology and Buddhist teachings Seth Robert Segal editor, pp. 9-31 (2003) State University of New York Press

[2] Peter Harvey, Consciousness mysticism in the discourses of the Buddha. in Karel Werner, The Yogi and the Mystic; Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism.” Routledge, 1995, page 82;



  • Linda Mintle

    Earnest, the problem with this blog is that there are now numerous types of mindfulness being conducted. I am speaking specifically on Buddhist approaches and how they are incompatible with Christianity. Yes MBSR and similar approaches can be used when they are conducted as you suggest.

  • Bevan Suits

    Yes, a load of false, and somewhat fearful, assumptions.

  • Revelation Meditations

    Because of the need for a good source of Christian Meditation i started this youtube channel i pray that it will be a blessing to you……https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLgmpFz-zxZ7O3ziOT7X2SQ

  • Linda Mintle

    Jesus taught to “put on the mind of Christ” He was specific that the thoughts are His thoughts.

  • Susan de la Vergne

    Emptiness in Buddhism is not the same as nothingness. It’s not to “empty” the mind of all thoughts, but instead to manage one’s state of mind, through mindfulness, to remain on virtue–on love, compassion, equity–so as to be of benefit to all living beings. That’s what Buddha taught. And so did Jesus.

  • Linda Mintle

    Depends what you read and who you talk to from the East.

  • Gael

    Although I respect the views of the author there are so many misconceptions about Buddhist practice in this essay that it is hard to know where to step into the discussion. A well-researched paper on the Christian concept of mindfulness would be very welcome, but to make statements such as the aim of mindfulness practice is ” closing off sensory outlets, etc.” is ill-informed. Buddhists (or secular mindfulness practitioners) do not close off sensory outlets, nor detach from thoughts, nor chase specific states like “nirvana,” etc. If there are goals in mindfulness it is to become intimate with present moment experience with openness and curiosity (and kindness), which includes the observation of our own minds (how thoughts and feelings arise and fall away), andthe cultivation of empathy, compassion and ethics, thus raising the bar in how we treat each other, ourselves, and the earth. Wait, that sounds like what Jesus taught!

  • Linda Mintle

    I would not object to what you are saying when this is done from a Christian perspective, but the narrative matters. And I too am trained in this and have been to many training presentations where the training was from a Buddhist perspective and the above was true. Ive never said that mindfulness isn’t a Christian practice. We have a rich history of it, but the way it is being presented in medicine and other disciplines is as described, not in all cases, but many and that is my caution.

  • EarnestP

    With respect, you are not on the mark with your understanding
    of mindfulness and its intention or objectives.

    As a practitioner with close to 20 years experience, and as a
    mindfulness teacher (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, arguably the gold
    standard for mindfulness programs) I feel qualified to talk on this. However
    this is only through gifts bestowed by Grace.

    In mindfulness practice there is no closing off of sensory
    outlets, no emptying of the mind, no detaching as such. There is only observation,
    only seeking to understand.

    You write : ‘Cease striving and know that I am God.” is our
    biblical instruction.

    And a beautiful instruction this is. To cease striving (or
    to be still) is to cease *all* striving – including striving to be good or
    right, striving to understand, striving to be close to God. The whole lot. This
    is the dropping of self-effort you refer to, and is true rest in God, and is at
    the heart of mindfulness practice.

    None of this is new to Christianity – Meister Eckhart,
    Simeon the New Theologian, Theresa of Avila, etc etc.

  • Linda Mintle

    This is true but most of the mindfulness teaching, including Kabat-Zinn is based on Buddhist world view. This was confirmed in a recent article in family therapy. So it’s not the present moment focus I object to but the way it is often practiced.

  • Derek

    You’re defining mindfulness according to Eastern traditions without treating the Western, secularized practice that strips away religious meaning. Western mindfulness is not about clearing your mind of all thoughts but paying attention to and being honest about emotions and feelings in the present. To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

    For more: http://mindfulnet.org/page2.htm

  • trlkly

    I’m not a therapist or anything, but I am too struggling with mindfulness after first thinking it sounded like exactly what I needed to cultivate in my life (as I often let my negative emotions control me). Fortunately, I started to get closer to God at the same time I started research, and am certain he told me that the mindfulness that I was practicing was not of Him.

    So I’m curious how you can use the Christian definition of mindfulness, without centering prayer or some other Christian/Buddhist mixture. What specifically does someone who wants to try a Christian version of mindfulness need to do?

    To me, that’s what needs to be out there, specific instructions for practicing Christian mindfulness. I don’t think it’s good that all the instructions out there are of the Buddhist variety.

  • Sheri Bowlen

    Thank you, Linda, for this article. As a Christian Therapist, I am looking at ways to bring Christian mindfulness into play with DBT for a group I would like to have at our church. Would you please send my the address for your Plenary Session?
    Thanks,
    Sheri

  • Linda Mintle

    Send me your email Judy and I will send it. It goes into much more detail. Happy to do it and glad you have seen the need to be specific about the mindfulness component in DBT. Christianity has a long tradition of mindfulness that can be used in that component.

  • Judy Johnson

    Linda,
    Thank you for this well-reasoned post on the distinctions between Buddhist and Christian mindfulness. I have been researching DBT as a potential group offering in our college counseling center, and have been struggling with the practice of mindfulness from a Christian standpoint. Your thoughts are very helpful to my process. In one of your comments, you referenced a plenary speech you made on the topic at AACC. Is there a way to access that address?

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  • Linda Mintle

    I would agree and certainly teach the mindfulness component of DBT from a Christian perspective. The issue here is how mindfulness is achieved. For the Christian, it is putting on the mind of Christ, filling our minds with Christ not emptying the mind or trying to achieve a state of nothingness.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Borderline-Personality-Disorder-Dialectical/dp/1608825655/ William Bragg

    This is a fascinating topic and I struggled with the same idea however in their new book on mindfulness Aguirre and Galen argue that Mindfulness IS compatible with Christianity.Christina contemplative prayer is a form of prayer that intentionally cultivates the discipline of seeking and finding God.”Be still and know
    that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. It is that stillness that DBT seeks to instill in people whose minds are not. The secular practice is for those who are not Christian but Christians can certainly be still within their faith and within DBT

  • Linda Mintle

    Appreciate it. This is an important conversation to have with people. Let me know how it goes!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Val Alsina

    Linda,

    Thanks for your insightful thoughts and writings. I would like to paraphrase your post with citation to you and your website for an online class discussion. It fits perfectly with the instructors prompt on “Internal Factors of Self-regulation” relating to psychotherapy and analysis of the life of a believer and how the Holy Spirit works within us. You know, I have a friend who is Buddhist and she says “meditate with me”. My reply is, “Let us hold hands and pray together”. God Bless.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ian Ridgway

    Mike, just to state that mindfulness has been part of Christian Meditation practice for nearly 2000 years does not vindicate it. Semi-pelagianism has also been with the Church for the same period as has Arianism but their longevity does not mean they are correct.

    Your next point relies on the benefits of being mindful which is being pragmatic rather than principled. Many wrong practices may also make us feel good that that is no proof that we should be doing them.

    I think your last point is harshly put and doesn’t seek to allow the Christian tradition to use the term ‘mindful’ in ways that align with holy Scripture. Our distress does come at times because we forget the benefits we have received from the Lord (Ps 103). The unwavering law to ‘stay in the present’ btw, epitomises the whole error of Buddhism with its non-theistic framework leading to its wish to escape the dukkha of this present world. Christians are not obligated to follow Buddhism’s definition of ‘mindfulness’ but can meditate on the Word of God as it is implied we do in Psalm 119.

  • Linda Mintle

    Skylar, DBT can be very helpful as a therapeutic approach. My only concern was that the mindfulness part line up with a Christian view of how to renew the mind versus the eastern view of emptying the mind. As long as that adaptation is made, I am comfortable using DBT and have. It has helped many.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Skylar

    I would respectfully disagree. I think doing DBT has actually brought me closer to God. A lot of the ideas (and mindfulness-even though it a good percentage of it-is only on part) talk about loving yourself and others to an extent. It is has helped me get through my depression and has also helped me live a more Christian life through relationship building and self care.

    Skylar

  • http://thinkunity.com john kuykendall

    Thank you we Christians need mindfulness. We need to see what is happening and how it is happening through the thoughts in our minds. To do this we need clarity in consciousness. Therefore, I look at meditation as an experiment in this ocean of consciousness.Peace

  • Linda Mintle

    The Christian belief is that ALL things work together for our good if we love God. So to think that one is having a serious of unfortunate events happening to him without God in the picture is not engaging in Christian mindfulness. When bad things happen, God does not cause them but can use them to do good in our lives. That is the part on which to meditate.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jim James Calvin Hicks

    How Do I get to unmind jobed?

  • Linda Mintle

    The Christian belief is that when a person accepts Christ, he or she is transformed. The old becomes new. It is God in us that corrects the sin nature. So we have life, purpose, direction and meaning–all factors important to preventing depression. And God values, loves, and accepts each person. He longs for relationship and to do His best work in us.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bevan

    Linda,

    If one maintains the thought “nothing good lives inside us”, how does that prevent suicides?

    It seems that religious illusions can provide a good reason to kill yourself, if so inclined.

  • Linda Mintle

    Thanks Glenn. I actually did a Plenary talk on this topic for the American Association of Christian Counselors a few years ago and went into detail to compare a Christian concept of mindfulness versus an Eastern Religion view. I agree, it is important to know the differences because the narrative of Christianity is very different from the narrative of eastern religions.

  • http://Somethoughts Glenn

    Linda,
    Thanks for the discussion on mindfulnss. I think it is a very important topic? Why, I just searched Amazon for a Audiobook to listen to in the Religion and Spirituality Section. There were many books that were on the subject dealing with mostly Buddhist mindfullness.

    I believe there needs to be a warning to Christians on the issue. Additionally, I believe non-believers need to be shown the differences.

    Mike, I see your comments. I agree mindfulness has been in Christianity for centuries. Linda is not saying mindfulness was not Christian. She is clarifying the distinctions between psychology’s definition, the Buddhist Definition and the Christian concepts.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mike

    I think you’re incorrect about Mindfulness being “incompatible with Christian theology”. Mindfulness may have begun as a Buddhist practice, but it has also been a part of Christian Meditative practices for almost two thousand years. While Christians may not have the goal of being enlightened, we can still benefit from watching our thoughts, being present, accepting our thoughts and feelings.

    The second to last paragraph in this article is utter nonsense. It sounds like an attempt to use the word “Mindfulness” to describe our relationship with God. Why not just call it our relationship with God? Why use the word Mindfulness when that’s not what Mindfulness means. It means being present to the current moment in a non-judging way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    LOL

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