Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Part 2: Christian Mindfulness: Why Buddhism Attracts

posted by Linda Mintle

Mindfulness is popular in our culture. A few years ago, I gave a plenary address to a group of Christian therapists in terms of the differences between the Christian view of mindfulness and eastern religions. The response was so great that I wanted to pass along my comments in a series of 4 blogs. Part one of this series can be found by clicking here, The Christian Practice of Mindfulness.

Because Buddhism is not considered a religion by many, but a philosophy of life, it lends well to psychological discourse. By the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Buddhist modernists promoted a less spiritual but more humanistic form of Buddhism, emphasizing change by way of a familiar Freudian concept–make the unconscious conscious.[1] Despite attempts to naturalize Buddhism, there are those who argue that “theology” is probably at work even when presented as a philosophy.[2] Even so, the integration of Buddhism and mental health is given public discourse in the larger mental health community. This is not so for Christianity.

In many ways, American culture is ripe for Buddhist picking. America’s growing pluralism introduces multiple cultural narratives. The deconstruction of truth brought on by postmodernism allows for truth to be discovered, a major tenet of Buddhist thought. And when truth is relative, there is no sin, allowing people to discover their own path to freedom. One could even argue that some Christians have become more independent in their beliefs, straying from biblical principles and creating faith that suits them.

Our culture is curious about meditation and spirituality, especially practices that are based in experience.[3] Buddhism is experiential, allowing people to feel religious without having to adhere to religious doctrine. Furthermore, forms of Buddhism compliment an American ideal—with enough effort and knowledge, you can be the master of your own destiny.

As our world becomes more violent, Americans are attracted to the peaceful, tolerant and nonviolent qualities they see in Buddhist followers. Most would agree that the encouragement of compassion and patience towards others is desperately needed in our society. Even though Jesus had these same qualities, He is ignored or relegated to a great teacher because He claims to be the only path to salvation.

In the scientific community, brain research has made understanding the science of mental life less mystical. Changes in mental process can be studied and measured, opening up scientific inquiry into states of meditation. And since Buddhist meditation promises outcomes of liberation from suffering and pain, and a way to calm the mind and reduce stress, it lends itself to empirical study and therapeutic value.

Buddhism emphasizes compassion, a life of modesty and restraint and respect for all things living.[4] It accepts all world faiths with an emphasis on nonjudgmental and tolerant thinking. With a spark of the divine in each of us, doctrine is unnecessary as one follows his own path, not constrained by the narrow path that Christianity offers. And most Americans, Christians included, are naïve to the true spiritual underpinnings of eastern religions and deeper forms of meditation. For example, people I talk to usually have no idea that the physical movements in Yoga are based on ancient Hindu worship designed to awaken the serpent power within through the discipline of the physical body.[5]

But the problem for the Christian is that the narrative of Buddhism is very different from Christianity. And that difference in narrative makes a difference. This I will address in Part 3.


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

 

[2] Buddhist theology: Critical reflections by contemporary Buddhist scholars. Edited by Roger Jackson and John Makransky (1999). RoutledgeCurzon

Note: the term theology is used even though there is no belief is God

[3] No other gods: Christian belief in dialogue with Buddhism, Hinduism and islam by Hendrick Vroom Wm. B. Erdsman Publisher (March 1996)

[4] Individualtion and Awakening: Romantic narrative and the psychological interpretation of Buddhism by Richard Payne pp. 31-51 from Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures: Essays on Therories and Practices by Mark Unno, Editor (2006). Wisdom Publishing Co

[5] Swamisivananda, S. (1994). Kundalini Yoga. Himalayas India: A Divine Life Society Publication. p. xiv-xv.

 

Parenting Preschools: One Change Makes a Huge Difference

posted by Linda Mintle

Preschoolers learn by  imitating others. So is it any wonder that if the average preschooler spends 4.5 hours a day (way to much!) in front of a TV, that the content would teach him or her a thing or two?

A study reported in Pediatrics, looked at 617 families in terms of the impact of TV viewing on preschoolers. Apparently, shows like Veggie Tales  may not only breed a love for vegetables, but other people as well. Here is what they found.

When parents changed the content of what preschoolers were watching away from violence and aggression, the preschoolers’ behavior improved. Not only did they see a decline in aggression and being difficult, but they also saw an improvement in social behavior towards others (empathy, helpfulness, respectful, sharing and concern for others). And the impact of that change remained  6 and 12 months after the changes were made.

Important to note was that parents did not change the amount of TV viewing, only the content.

Remember, the recommendation for hours of TV viewing for preschoolers is less than 2 hours every day. So even though the number of hours watched was too high (a contributor to childhood obesity), changing the content made a difference in behavior.

And low income boys in the study who watched television the most, benefitted the most.

The take aways for parents:

1) Provide children with kind, compassionate role models on TV–do away with aggression and violence and you will see an improvement in behavior.

2) Monitor the hours of TV watched. Even though the study did not decrease the amount of TV, the conclusion is clear–what kids watch influences their behavior and too much screen viewing is linked to childhood obesity.

Parents, this is simple change with huge benefits. Monitor what your children are watching!

Is Your Co-Worker’s Affair Any of Your Business?

posted by Linda Mintle

It’s no secret that Andrew and his co-worker, Renee were having an affair at the office.

What is surprising is that no one seems to care!

According to Vault.com’s 2013 Office Romance Survey, the majority of people surveyed thought that office affairs are no big deal and none of their business. Maybe that is because 56% of those surveyed said they have been involved in office romance and 35% have had an office tryst.

It gets dicier: Almost a third of those surveyed said they had  an office “wife or husband”–meaning, they did not a romantic relationship at work, but had someone in the office with whom they hung out with all the time. Why is this a problem? Because we know that proximity and spending a lot of time together are risk factors for affairs. It’s like playing with fire.

So should we care?

Affairs are about betrayal and secrecy so, yes, we should care. People are always hurt in the end.

And here is the part I find incredible, 76% said that a romantic office relationship did NOT impact their personal or professional relationships with other co-workers. If you are sneaking around, cheating on your partner, blurring the lines of authority, etc., why wouldn’t that spill over to other relationships in the work place? It reminds me of  women who marry cheating men and then expect them to be faithful. If he cheated on you, chances are it will happen again if no changes are made.

Like President Clinton who shook his finger at the camera and told America he did not have sex with that woman, we try to compartmentalize our lives when it comes to office romance. Compartmentalizing is when you put part of your life on one shelf (an affair at the office), another on a different shelf (a family at home) and believe the two shelves will never touch each other. I think we all know how well that eventually works out. Ask the former President. The shelves eventually come crashing down.

In my mind, if you care about a co-worker and know he/she is having an affair, care enough to talk to the person about it. Help the person see that betrayal and secrecy never end well. You might help save a marriage and help avoid a great deal of emotional pain.

Feel Alone in Marriage?

posted by Linda Mintle

Feeling alone in your marriage? Well you are not alone–at least when it comes to that feeling.

According to a comprehensive study of marriage by Penn State researcher Paul Amato and others, couples are spending less time together than ever. Spouses are eating alone, doing friend and other activities apart from their spouses. For some couples this trend is troubling. It loosens the attachment so important to creating a strong marriage.

When emotional connections are stronger with those outside the marriage than inside, there is a risk for affairs. And maintaining the marital friendship is the foundation of what Gottman calls a strong marital house. So what can a couple do if they find themselves drifting apart and vacationing alone?

One idea is to find an emotionally focused couples therapist (EFT–emotionally focused therapy) who works on creating a safe and secure attachment in the marriage. The therapy can help couples develop a feeling of togetherness, become more open and responsive to each other. Therapy helps couples look at deeper feelings under their behavior and resolve hurts and wounds that may be prompting the separateness. Others couples may just need to make spending time together a priority and re-engage in together activities again. When couples spend time together and turn to each other in times of difficulty, the marital bond grows.

So if you are feeling alone, pay attention to that feeling and do something about it. While you may be one of the few people who is not bothered by living a parallel life with your partner, most of us want that secure and safe attachment based on marital friendship and togetherness.

Study from: Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is Changing, (Harvard University Press, 2007)

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