Recently I wrote a two-part series on Yoga, mindfulness, and Centering Prayer. If you haven’t read that, I suggest you do so now. I will try not to repeat myself here.
Why am I addressing mindfulness again so soon? “Catholic mindfulness” is currently being marketed vigorously all over the internet. Readers have forwarded unsolicited emails from Catholic sites promoting mindfulness. Easter Tuesday, I received an email from Ascension Press about a podcast on the subject. The podcast was from a two-part interview with Dr. Gregory Bottaro, who has created an online “Catholic mindfulness” program.
It is very concerning to see this from Ascension Press. They are (up until now) one of the most reliably sound Catholic publishers in the U.S. Others have voiced their concerns about “Catholic mindfulness” with the publisher. I have been told Ascension received the criticism well. But I have been unable to find any public retraction. When I just checked Ascension’s Facebook page, I found their post on mindfulness still there, with 25 likes and some shares. How many of Ascension’s subscribers, Facebook friends, and other followers saw them promoting this course? Without a public correction, many of these people may be led astray.
My purpose is not to slam Ascension Press, nor to make a personal attack against Dr. Bottaro. I do think a response is needed, however.
Parallels with Centering Prayer
My earlier series highlighted some of the similarities between mindfulness and other types of Eastern meditation. Here is Part 2.
I am concerned that the “Catholic mindfulness” movement is today where the Centering Prayer movement was thirty years ago. Centering Prayer is now practiced at parishes throughout the nation and the world. So many people have been led astray! I am too young to have spoken up about the practice in the 1980s. Today I have an opportunity to stop history from repeating itself with another New Age meditation form being “married” to Catholic spirituality. I must speak.
The Trappist monks who created Centering Prayer were no doubt well-meaning. I believe Dr. Bottaro is as well. Being well-meaning does not guarantee that one will not be led astray or lead others astray.
Fr. Thomas Keating and the other promoters of Centering Prayer claim that it is part of the Christian tradition of contemplation. They essentially took an Eastern meditation form and sold it as identical with, or in the same vein as, the teaching of the Fathers and saints. They were wrong. All the good intentions and use of Christian terms cannot change the fact that Centering Prayer is not prayer. It should never be taught at Catholic parishes.
Dr. Bottaro is now doing something similar with mindfulness. He has taken an Eastern meditation technique and made claims that “mindfulness is Catholic.” Let’s look briefly at some of the errors in his work. Please note that I have not taken Dr. Bottaro’s course, although I am in dialog with others who have (some of whom have had an extended conversation with Bottaro about their concerns). I have read a preview of the course, plus his free download, 10 Things You Need to Know About Catholic Mindfulness, and various other articles online, as well as listening to the podcast. I will restrict my comments to the material I have encountered myself.
Mindfulness and Yoga
Bottaro is aware that mindfulness is usually associated with Eastern religions. One of his “10 Things” is titled “It is not Eastern or Buddhist.” His arguments fail to convince me.
He contrasts mindfulness with Yoga, saying:
“Yoga is a part of Eastern practice that is also connected to a Buddhist philosophy. Essentially, Yoga is a series of movements of the body with the purpose of bringing the mind to a certain place. That place is indicated by the word ‘Yoga’ because Yoga in Sanskrit means ‘Union.’ The Buddhist philosophy is that all being is unified, and the sense of division within being is an illusion.”
Yoga originated as a Hindu practice, long before Buddhism appeared (although some Buddhists may practice Yoga). Botarro does not seem to recognize that there is a distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism. It is difficult to place confidence in his statement that “mindfulness is not Eastern” when his grasp of Eastern religions appears shallow.
“Obviously this is directly contrary to a Christian philosophy. We believe each one of us is made with unique dignity, in the image of God. Our individuality is not an illusion but an objective reality. We will exist for eternity as individual persons. Since the word ‘Yoga’ directly translates to the Buddhist philosophy, it cannot be presented in a Catholic way. Though there are many who try, ‘Catholic Yoga’ simply can’t exist. It is a contradiction in terms.”
He goes on to say that the term “body movement” is not essentially Eastern, and concludes, “Mindfulness, then, would be more like the word ‘body movement’ and not like using the word ‘Yoga.’”
I see several problems here:
- Bottaro provides a conclusion without giving any evidence why the term “mindfulness” is more like “body movement” than “Yoga.”
- Would the term “Yoga” be okay if it were translated to English? After all, “union” is a Christian concept too.
- What if the popular term for “mindfulness” was a non-English word?
- “Mindfulness” is one of the steps towards enlightenment in Buddhism.
- Are we primarily concerned with terms or with the substance of the practice?
This point constitutes his whole argument (in the ebook) as to why mindfulness “is not Eastern or Buddhist.”
Illusions and empty minds
His next point is that “There are some forms of Mindfulness to avoid.” He writes in part:
“The ultimate danger to Buddhist Mindfulness for a Christian [sic] is moving towards the belief that the self and God are illusions. This may be subtle or overt. In one of the trainings I have attended for Mindfulness lead by a well-known practitioner, there was a specific module titled, ‘The Self Is An Illusion.’ I was grateful for the clarity of his teaching as he labeled exactly where his philosophy was coming from. Unfortunately, not every mindfulness exercise you look up on YouTube is going to be as clear. Many are very good at leaving out any reference to this question, but some do not.”
Again, I see some problems here:
- Seeing the self and God as illusions is only one of many concerns about Eastern meditation. Here’s a document by the CDF on the subject, and another by other Vatican dicasteries.
- Bottaro’s promotion of “Catholic mindfulness” may embolden Catholics to attend a training like the one he mentions, and thus fall into serious theological errors.
- On one Catholic site on which Bottaro was interviewed, a resource link under the post led to a site promoting Eastern meditation. It’s unclear whether Bottaro provided the link himself.
- Mindfulness, like all Buddhist meditation, is ordered to seeing the self as an illusion. It promotes a Buddhist de-personalized detachment. This is true with or without a module on the self as an illusion.
Bottaro’s next point is that “Mindfulness is Not Mind-emptiness.” I agree, but the point is irrelevant. Many Catholics associate “emptying the mind” with giving room to demons. They thus tend to focus their criticism of Eastern meditation on mind-emptying. Neither Vatican document on the New Age mentions “mind-emptying,” so it is not my primary concern. Besides, even Buddhists themselves would deny that meditation involves making the mind blank. Rather, they would say that it involves letting go of or eliminating certain types of thoughts.
Centering Prayer advocates often argue the same thing: Centering Prayer doesn’t empty the mind; however, the practice involves setting aside all thoughts, which should result in what the average person would term an empty mind.
An altered consciousness
One of the Vatican documents does mention “mind expansion,” “consciousness,” and “awareness.” Here is where the real problem lies. As Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life states:
“The New Age offers a huge variety of techniques to help people reach a higher level of perceiving reality, a way of overcoming the separation between subjects and between subjects and objects in the knowing process, concluding in total fusion of what normal, inferior, awareness sees as separate or distinct realities.”
Mindfulness is a Buddhist technique designed to help accomplish these very ends. The Center for Mindfulness says:
“Mindfulness is a practice of present moment awareness. Mindfulness increases ability to see things as they arise clearly without judgment. Mindfulness facilitates both focusing and widening our attention as we become aware of ourselves and the world around us. The ‘goal’ is to be more fully present in our lives.”
Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with being “more fully present.” But mindfulness, as defined by the very people who first introduced it to the West as of possible medicinal benefit, is about changing one’s awareness, which plays a principle part in all forms of New Age meditation. Again, changing one’s awareness is not necessarily a problem in itself. It depends on what one’s awareness is changed from and to, and how. Does the mindfulness technique really make one more fully present? If so, more fully present to what? And why is that a good goal for Catholics?
Dr. Bottaro writes:
“Mindfulness does involve consciousness, so it is invisible, but it is not spiritual.” (The Present Moment: a Christian Approach to Mindfulness)
Eastern meditation techniques involve various means of altering one’s consciousness. In Centering Prayer, for example, one is supposed to become “aware” that one is already in union with God. This awareness comes about through operating at a subconscious rather than a conscious level during one’s centering time.
The “ultimate goal of all Buddhist teaching,” according to Buddhism for Dummies, is “waking up to the truth of your authentic being, your innermost nature.” This awakening is enlightenment. Enlightenment requires a change of consciousness.
Mindfulness focuses on details of life that the subconscious mind usually notes, but that the conscious mind often considers beneath its notice. Now, some of what we don’t normally notice, we should be noticing. For example, if you usually tune people out when they are talking to you, you should work on changing that. On the other hand, some things should normally remain beneath our conscious notice. We should not always be aware of our heart beating, blood pulsing through our veins, blinking, and other involuntary bodily functions, for example. The human mind was made for greater things.
We should also ask, is it helpful or healthy from a Catholic spiritual standpoint to always be aware of the sights and sounds around us? What about during personal prayer, for example? What if the Holy Spirit inspires us with a thought or feeling and we turn away from it in an effort to practice mindfulness?
In Christianity, our transformation is not primarily one of consciousness but of sanctification. Being more aware of the present moment does not make one holier. If mindfulness has truly been secularized, as Bottaro insists, associating it with the writings of the saints does not make it Catholic unless the practice itself is changed. And then, why cling to a term with Buddhist associations?
God versus the senses
Bottaro defines mindfulness this way:
“The practice of mindfulness is simply learning how to control our focus so that instead of paying attention to the fantasies we create in our imagination, we pay attention to the reality that is occurring outside of the space between our two ears. Mindfulness means ‘coming to our senses.’ It is a way of plugging ourselves into reality instead of letting the creations of our minds dictate what we pay attention to.” (Ibid., emphasis in the original.)
What if God wants us to spend some time in reflection, rather than paying attention to our (external) senses? What about the internal senses? They involve much more than the disparaging phrase “the fantasies we create in our imagination” implies. Both our external and internal senses are meant to lead us to God. He created both. Is Bottaro scorning the higher faculties of the soul?
This turning our focus away from our thoughts to our senses again reminds me of Centering Prayer. Of course, in Centering Prayer, one turns away from exterior and interior senses. But both it and mindfulness as presented by Bottaro, seem to sweep away too much. As I have said many times in speaking of Centering Prayer, thoughts are not the problem for Christians. Thoughts are actually a good and necessary means of growing closer to God. Beasts share with us the external senses. It is the rational soul that raises us above the beasts.
The means or the end?
Speaking of the Christian classics, Abandonment to Divine Providence and The Practice of the Presence of God, Bottaro says:
“These two books teach us that trustful surrender to God, who is ever-present, actually leads to mindfulness. Christianity holds the key to true mindfulness.” (The Present Moment)
By saying trustful surrender leads to mindfulness, it seems as though he is making mindfulness the goal. We surrender to God in order to enter into greater intimacy with Him, in order to love Him more perfectly. We don’t make this surrender a means to the end of practicing mindfulness or reaping the physical or psychological benefits of mindfulness.
This mistake appears to be repeated a few lines later:
“Practically speaking, instead of just saying, ‘I trust God,’ we can put our minds behind our words. When we ruminate about the past or future, churning worries or regrets over and over in our minds, we are acting as if we are in control and we need to figure everything out. If we want to make an act of trust in God, we can try to let go of that false control, and focus our minds on the realities of the present moment instead. This is how we practically ‘let go and let God.’ Integrated with a Christian understanding of the path to holiness, this is how we can experience true peace.” (Ibid.)
Are we seeking peace, or are we seeking God?
Once again I see the parallel with Centering Prayer. Fr. Thomas Keating regularly speaks of Catholic dogma and spirituality as though they are only the means to personal fulfillment or enlightenment.
We do need to relinquish control to God, but mindfulness is neither the needed means nor the end. How do these Christian classics, and the writings of the saints, tell us to make acts of trust in God? Not by “focus[ing] our minds on the realities of the present moment,” but by focusing our minds on Christ.
For example, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes in Abandonment to Divine Providence that for perfect union with God’s will two things are needed:
“firstly, the profound conviction that nothing happens in this world, in our souls or outside them, without the design or permission of God… secondly, the firm belief that through the all-powerful and paternal Providence of God, all that He wills or permits invariably turns to the advantage of those who practice this submission to His orders.”
There is nothing here about purposely (mindfully) paying attention to the world of the senses or discounting rumination.
I am glad that Bottaro recommends these books. But the practice of mindfulness that he attaches to them is at best laying an added burden of mental exercises on those who are seeking God. For the average, healthy person, putting one’s trust fully in God brings an abiding peace, “the peace that passes understanding” (Phil. 4:7) — though that peace is never the goal. If Bottaro’s readers and clients read Fr. de Caussade’s work through the perspective of mindfulness, they risk distorting his meaning, stripping the book of its power to transform their lives.
Something similar has already happened in the case of Centering Prayer. Fr. Keating claims that Centering Prayer is in the tradition of the Desert Fathers, saints, and especially The Cloud of Unknowing. Practitioners, most of whom never read the classic works of Catholic spirituality before their introduction to Centering Prayer, consistently misinterpret them in a New Age manner. They are unable to understand the true tradition and so benefit from the teaching of the saints.
This is one of my main concerns with the “Catholic mindfulness” course.
Does everybody need it?
And that brings me to the final criticism of Bottaro’s work. I could say much more if I had the time, but this will have to be it for now.
Bottaro’s first “Thing You Need to know About Mindfulness” is “You need it.” He is not promoting mindfulness just to the anxious or depressed or those with chronic pain, but to every Catholic, prescribing it for:
“anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addictions, insomnia, scrupulosity, anger, marital difficulties, parenting difficulties, spiritual difficulties, and a host of other problems. Mindfulness will help you to overcome normal stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and even depression.”
Parenting difficulties? Really? “A host of other problems?” And spiritual difficulties? Mind exercises to make me holier? I wish it were that simple. With Bottaro, mindfulness has evolved from a central practice of Buddhism, to a (supposedly) secular aid to dealing with chronic pain, to a secular stress reliever and booster of corporate productivity, to a Catholic cure for virtually everything, including spiritual difficulties.
Catholics for the first twenty-one centuries of Christianity did not practice mindfulness. They did not need to. They had the teachings of the saints and other holy men and women. We still do. Why do we need mindfulness now?
Real Catholic alternatives to mindfulness
If you are looking for real Catholic aid to stop whirling, anxious, or harmful thoughts, here are a few suggestions.
When you are suffering, imagine yourself embracing a life-size cross, kissing it, and saying words of submission to God’s will.
To remember God throughout the day, practice saying a short prayer whenever you consult your watch or a clock.
To calm your fears, imagine the Divine Mercy image as you pray, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
When you find yourself thinking about meaningless things, picture the Eucharist in the monstrance and mentally bow before the Lord.
If you find your mind wandering when someone is talking to you, remind yourself that the speaker is made in God’s image and beloved of Him, and treat that person as you would treat Jesus Himself.
When your senses encounter anything beautiful, immediately thank God for it, then praise Him for His greatness, which is far beyond any beauty found in creation.
Practices like these will bring you closer to God. They will sancitfy your whole day. As your intimacy with God grows, He will relieve your fear and anxiety (but I am not discounting the need for help with diagnosed psychological problems).
In conclusion, let me repeat that I have no doubt of Dr. Bottaro’s sincerity and good will. I mean no disparagement of him. I have been praying for him regularly. I am trying to prevent another infiltration of New Age spirituality into the Church that could lead countless Catholics toward Eastern meditation.
You may also enjoy this video on mindfulness by Dan Burke.
53 thoughts on “Mindfulness is the new Centering Prayer”
Perhaps it is in the interpretation. I have practiced yoga for many years. I look forward to the breath meditations when I close my eyes, still my mind,and lift my heart and thoughts to God. (Be still and know. ) It is not that we ourselves (heart, mind, and soul,) are “separate” or an illusion, it is that our ego, (which is an integral part of our survival mechanisms) gives us the illusion of our own grandiosity and can cause us to feel separate from others. When this is our focus, rather than seeing everyone who suffers as a brother or sister in Christ, our egos tell us that their problems are not our problems. It puts us in the “us and them” mode, rather than an opportunity to respond to their problems with the mercy taught us by Christ. As for union, the Union we seek is Union with God, which we can only do by “capturing every thought”, (not “emptying,” or “blanking out” mentally. ) This is mindfulness; staying present to God’s truth rather than letting our imaginations create fantasies that bring us anxiety and depression. Mindfulness leads us to prayer and dependency on God. By staying mindful, we remain fully present to God’s action in our lives, filled with gratitude, and fully dependent on the Father. We are all one as Gods creation and in Union with God.
Thanks for you comment, Mary. We should certainly be humble and charitable. Those are basic to spiritual growth. There are a couple things in your comment I either am not clear about or I disagree with. Yes, we “take each thought captive” — to Christ. So, what is the truth that we stay present to? How does mindfulness, as it is generally taught, help us focus on God’s truth, rather than on needless things like the texture of the chair we are sitting on? Second, all creation is created by God (by definition), but not all creation is equal in dignity. A woman has greater dignity than a frog or a blade of grass. So, what exactly do you mean when you say “We are all one as God’s creation?” Third, we are not all in union with God. That is, as you said earlier, what we seek. As the Scripture says, “Who asks for what he already has?” God sustains all that is, and as Creator and Sustainer He is in all things. But we seek a greater union, a union of love. Lower creatures can never experience this type of union with God.
So thankful for your clear presentation on this topic, Connie.
I wonder if we could have permission to reprint it as a parish bulletin insert?
God bless you & yours.
Sure, Heidi. Thanks for asking first. Feel free to edit it for length, as long as it doesn’t get muddled.
Hi again, Connie.
I just wanted to add that we have ‘lost’ a family member from the Church due in large part to mindfulness, I believe. Have you seen a loss of the sense of who God is and who we are through such practices? Yes, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are made for union with Him, but we are still sinful creatures greatly in need of the graces of the Sacraments…
Thanks for your thoughts.
Oh, Heidi, how sad! I have not personally seen this in mindfulness yet. However, mindfulness is a recent area of exploration for me. I have seen it widely among those who practice Centering Prayer. They may start out completely orthodox (though usually not very well schooled in Catholic spirituality), but through the practice, they begin to lose their sense of self and see themselves as already in union with or virtually identical to God. This is just the danger I am trying to prevent with mindfulness. “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Even though practitioners may not see mindfulness as prayer (which it indeed is not), their practice of it will most likely affect their belief system. I will pray for your family member.
Oh my gosh! Please refrain from doing so and please get the facts straight!!! You would be unknowingly promoting slander and misinformation! I hope the author removes this post asap until she has more clarity on what she has written. We are all on the same side!!!!
I haven’t had a chance to really look through the rest of your work yet, but I have to say I actually agree with a lot of what you’ve written. Unfortunately it seems that you have misunderstood and misrepresented a number of points from my work and I wish you had reached out to me before publishing this. I understand that blogs are all about getting “hits,” but writing things like this can have really important and deep impacts in others’ spiritual lives that should be accounted for with a bit more preparation. I’d welcome the chance to actually dialogue with you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
God bless your work,
Dr. Bottaro, Thanks for your comment. I am not interested in getting “hits” on my blog, except inasmuch as people reading my work will be brought closer to Christ. I really could not care less how popular I am. If I wanted to be popular, I’d write about something other than Catholic spirituality. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything that you said or wrote, please feel free to correct me. I’m open to understanding your work better. You can either do so here, or through email. I’m at email@example.com Have a blessed Easter season.
I’d be happy to! My work has been supported by my local bishop along with 5 or 6 others that I’ve had a chance to introduce it to so far. I am a faithful servant of the Church and would immediately desist if I was doing something against bringing people closer to Christ. I understand we are all entitled to our opinions, but I hope in the final analysis we are all open to following the Magisterium (especially the more public laity among us, whom it seems you correspond with).
I am glad to hear it. Looking forward to what you have to say.
I listened to a 35-minute podcast conversation between you and Fr. Van Heusen on the concept of “Catholic” Mindfullness and never once heard the soul or divine grace mentioned. The entire conversation revolved around positive psycholgy, as if sanctification were a product of the trained mind rather than the operation of divine grace on the soul. In other words, Mindfullness appears to dethrone the supernatural in favour of the purely natural as the way ahead for religious formation. Sounds too close to that Modernist error condemned by St. Pius X in his Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, the suggestion that grace is not a free gift of God external to man but rather that man is inately divine in his nature and it only remains for him to “rationalise” his divine potential, like that latent seed spoken of in the Gospels.
Of course we know from the Fathers and the teaching of the Church that the spiritual life is utterly dependent upon God’s grace and our cooperation with it. We also know from the spiritual works of the Doctors and saints that the times of greatest difficulty in prayer or in doing our duty are the times of greatest merit, should we bear them patiently and with trust in God.
In this regard, I read one person thus describe what you promote: “Mindfulness is about being in the moment, not regretting the past or worrying about the future.”
But this is nothing new, the Church has always taught this to the faithful. The difference, though, is that the Church taught it from a supernatural point of view, a resignation to trust in God in one’s soul, whereas you appear to be promoting it as a new concept rooted in the psychology of man. This can be dangerous since pride can very quickly intervene to turn this method into spiritual presumption, or even religious indifference.
In my opinion, and I think the late Bishop Fulton Sheen was of the same opinion, when psychology gets into the Catholic religion, especially the Freudian version, holiness rather hastily goes out the back door.
You may remember the horrendous Transcendantal (how to get yourself possessed) meditation method introduced in the 1970s and 80s into Catholic spirituality, a method that had catastrophic results on souls. I lost count of the numbers of priests and religious that this evil caused to abandon their vocations, and of the tens of thousands of Catholics it helped apostatise from the true religion. Now I don’t know enough about the method you promote to liken it to this or that offshoot of Eastern Mysticism, but I have heard and read enough to know that it’s a novel idea that has no foundation in the Church’s Traditional and proven methods of personal sanctification.
The Holy Mass (Calvary), the rosary, Stations of the Cross, lives of the saints, etc., these are the tried and tested methods that have sanctified the saints and martyrs for 2000 years. It’s not always easy, I grant you, sometimes a great and heroic struggle to remain faithful, but this is the test of all souls and grace is given accordingly. If we want to feel good about ourselves all the time, and feel holy, then the liklihood is that we seek less the God of consolations than the consolations of God. And that’s not good, for then we are not disposed to the Cross which is the only way that leads to heaven.
I sincerely hope you will reflect on this and conclude that you are not greater than the masters of the spiritual life who have graced the Church with their holiness and wisdom since her divine foundation. You have not caught onto something they missed, you have simply adopted a practice that they rejected and even condemned. Stay well clear of psychology in religion, it ruins vocations and souls!
Oh my! I suspect you do not know Dr. Greg Bottaro? He and his family are beautifully faithful and devout Catholics. As true and solid as they come! I understand that some people panic when they do not understand what someone is doing – especially in matters of spirituality – but you’ve really defamed his good name. I know many good Catholics, along with many homeschooling moms whom have been helped tremendously by his work. These people are wise enough to know that he is not, in any way, promoting anything that is opposed to Catholic Teaching and not in any way close to anything New Age. Kindly retract these awful things you’ve said about him. Thank youl
She might retract her comments, but she hasn’t said awful things about him or defamed him. She’s taking issue with the teachings, not the person.
Exactly. I’ve had whole podcasts directed against some of the things I’ve written. That’s the way it goes. It’s not about personalities. It’s about truth and making sure people are not turned aside from the saints to Eastern spirituality.
I have no doubt about Dr. Bottaro’s Catholicity, as I said twice in the post. I am certainly not defaming his good name. Two eminent theologians who are knowledgeable on this subject have reviewed the piece for me. If you see any specific element in the post which you think I misrepresented or misunderstand, feel free to point it out.
People have no problem assessing risks in other areas of life and then deciding the potential risk is not worth it (skydiving, for example). It’s so strange to me how much resistance there is to seeing the spiritual risks in certain things like yoga, centering prayer, etc. and thinking we can assess that risk on our own, that the risks “don’t apply to me,” that we know better than our shepherds. We are being warned by the wisdom of the Church, and many, many people proceed into dark territory despite that warning because they think they can beat the odds or that the risk doesn’t apply to them. Shouldn’t we be *more* cautious in such matters, not less?
Yes, if we want to be holy, we avoid taking spiritual risks.
Excellent point Ari. Our souls are at risk. Why take chances? Where there’s a crack, things seep in.
Thank you, Connie and God bless you.
You too, Melissa.
Thank you for the well written article. I actually took a screenshot of your suggestions of what to do when thought you would rather not have enter your head, or distractions when listening to other people. This is a problem for me and all of the suggestions were very good
You’re welcome. We all deal with this to some extent. We don’t need to blow it out of proportion. For most people, it’s very minor and not worth worrying about. We just try to do better. Like everything else, this weakness can become an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Pingback: The CatholicPsych Institute | Catholic Mindfulness Is Not Centering Prayer
Here is my response.
Please do keep me in your prayers as you are in mine!
Thanks, I will. I just read your response over once and have to ruminate on it some more.
I have taken one of Dr. Bottaros’ classes and I will give a snapshot of what was covered. Mindfulness means that your mind is full of the present moment. Not being anxious about the future, but being fully present in the care of God. In fact, he had us read, Abandonment to Divine Providence in the class. You begin to see the world differently, because you know you are safe. That’s huge for someone recovering from depression or PTSS and God used Dr. Bottaro to deliver a message that is all throughout Catholic teaching, but Dr. Bottaro broke down, into a step by step process, making me able to know and practice trust in Jesus in a moment to moment way. Every breath and every heart beat. And he helped me allow God to heal me. He isn’t teaching anything that conflicts with the Church. In fact, once I took his class, I started hearing the lessons from his class in the daily Gospel readings, in the Liturgy and in the songs of the Mass. “In your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope…” And in the song “The Summons” “Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around? THROUGH SIGHT AND TOUCH AND SOUND in you and you in Me.”
I like that you are prudent and want to avoid risks. With so much of the laity being lax about so much else, its refreshing and edifying to know that its important to others to remain true to the Magisterium. Thank you. I hope that you have a chance to speak with Dr. Bottaro and learn more because I am confident that you will not find what he teaches to be risky in any way.
Hi, Jessica. In my work on mindfulness, I try to distinguish between people who have diagnosable psychological problems and those who are healthy but just have an average amount of wandering thoughts or feel anxious or depressed now and then. Dr. Bottaro is marketing mindfulness to the Catholic world at large, and also through his course to people who may have diagnosed mental health issues but are not his patients. It of course gets sticky when it comes to people with mental health issues. I am not a psychologist and do not pretend to be, and I don’t want to come between patients and their doctors. I am looking at Dr. Bottaro’s response and if I find after further thought and perhaps interaction with him that the course is not problematic, or not as problematic as I have thought, I will certainly write a follow-up.
Connie, I think it’s really important that if something is unhealthy (or even worse- opens us up to demonic influence) we point it out for all people. There is a fine line of distinction between diagnosable psychological problems and “healthy” people in many cases. Especially when it comes to anxiety and worry. If a person has trouble focusing on the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, or the Mass, I’d say employing any tool that helps focus the mind to enter deeper into those prayers would be healthy. That’s what mindfulness does. It can help people with severe diagnosable disorders, and it can also help many more of us!
Thanks for adding your perspective Jessica, I couldn’t have said it better myself!
ps. one more thing. As for mindfulness not being practiced by earlier Christians, I would have to disagree. It is the atrium of the mind, and leads us into an encounter with God who is waiting for us in the NOW. It is the mindset which leads us into meditation and contemplation. It is what the first step of the Ignatian Examen which asks us to be in the present moment. It just wasn’t called mindfulness. I think Dr Bottaro has helped to reclaim and redeem for Christ what the east has claimed as its own.
I have to disagree with you there. Unless Dr. Bottaro’s practice of mindfulness is very different from the average mindfulness practice (and he says himself that his course is based on the MBSR), it is not at all the same as the Ignatian Examen. I did write briefly about that in my 2-part series on Yoga, Mindfulness, and Centering Prayer. I don’t have the time to address it more fully here at this point, but I may do a post on just this misunderstanding at a future time.
No one is saying it is the same as the Examen- it is the first step of the examen. The actual first step of the examen is to call to mind the presence of God, or to place oneself in the presence of God. In order to do this, one must practice a pre-step, or preparation, of bringing the mind out of racing ruminations and thoughts. It means slowing down to be present in the moment, to be able to then focus on the presence of God. This is how the two are connected. Then the Examen can be entered into.
Thanks for the clarification of your position.
I am a Buddhist. I have practiced shamatha (mindfulness) meditation for 35 years. I have great respect for the Christian religion and especially for Catholic contemplative practice. Because I believe you don’t understand mindfulness practice, I would like to explain what the practice is and then (in a separate post) offer a few thoughts on transmission of religion (Catholicism or Buddhism) from one generation and one culture to another.
Shamatha (pronounced sha-mat-ha) is a Sanskrit word that means “calm abiding”. The practice is extraordinarily simple. There are three parts to the practice.
First, is taking a good posture. The practice is generally done sitting (although there is a walking meditation practice as well). It can be done either on a meditation cushion or a chair. The posture is upright and is a balance between not being too tight and not being too loose — a combination of being alert, and also relaxed. The eyes are open or closed, depending on the tradition.
Second, the instructions call for placing attention lightly on a focal point — something existing in the present. Often, but not always, the focus is on the breath. Sometimes other objects are used, such as a candle or a picture of the Buddha. In walking meditation, the focus is on the movement of the legs.
Third, the instructions provide for what to do when the mind wanders. When this happens, when you notice that a thought has carried you away, you very gently bring attention back to the breath. In the practice, you don’t judge thoughts. It doesn’t matter if the thought is an angry thought or a silly thought or a profound thought. In each case, when you notice the thought, you return to the focal point of the practice (i.e. the breath).
The point is not to eliminate thoughts. The point is not to achieve an altered state of mind. But in that brief moment in waking from distraction, the momentum of a chain of thought is broken and we see what our mind is like. Sometimes what we see is not pleasant. Some thoughts are habitual and painful and tinged with emotion. Some thoughts are selfish, full of pride or miserliness or shame. And some thoughts are insightful or loving or compassionate. None are rejected. Over time, we come to know our minds very well — including all of our imperfections, all that makes us human.
Gradually, with this practice, we come to accept ourselves — to develop maitri (loving kindness) toward ourselves. And amazingly, it is often the aspects of our mind that are selfish or distasteful that are the most helpful in developing a “genuine heart of sadness” that is the introduction to loving kindness. It is the aspect of ourselves that is not perfect, that allows our hearts to be broken.
When mind is settled with shamatha practice, we can then begin to extend loving heart that we have developed to others. There are other meditation practices to assist with that — such as tonglen practice — exchanging self for others.
That is shamatha practice. I don’t have a view on whether it is helpful or appropriate for Catholics to try this practice — but I can assure you that it is not demonic. It also has no particular philosophical content. The practice predates Buddhism — Shakyamuni Buddha learned the practice from his Hindu teachers. If there are Catholics doing this, I am sure that the practice could easily be done with a picture of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary as the focal point of the practice.
Thank you for indulging this long post. I hope that you will not feel that it is inappropriate — but I did not feel that you conveyed either the purpose or the substance of the practice. The practice has meant a lot to me.
Thanks, Alyosha. A couple of thoughts. 1) Your comment demonstrates how mindfulness is very similar to Centering Prayer, which was the main point of my post. (Some) Catholics have been there and done that. 2) I realize that the Buddhist belief is that anyone/everyone can practice different types of Buddhist meditation, regardless of their religion or philosophy. However, from a Catholic viewpoint, that is not necessarily true. 3) My view, which accords with that of a couple of eminent Catholic theologians I have consulted on the issue, is that mindfulness, like other forms of Eastern meditation, leads to a non-Christian view of the self and God. That means that it is dangerous for a Catholic to practice. For a Buddhist seeking truth, I think it is a beautiful attempt. But Catholics (we believe) have the fullness of truth as revealed by Christ. We have plenty of traditional Catholic practices to offer people that will not pose a spiritual danger to them. Centering Prayer has been a disaster for many Catholics’ relationship with Christ. I do not want to see a repeat of that.
I was in Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico last November and visited a small cathedral in the center of town. The ceiling of the cathedral was hand painted with an enormous painting if the Virgin of Guadalupe and various shrines to saints were in alcoves off the sanctuary. At one of these shrines, an old woman was kneeling, praying and gesticulating emotionally to the shrine. It was moving to see faith manifested so beautifully.
I thought to myself, as I watched this from across the sanctuary, how similar she is to Buddhist practitioners in Tibet. There people walk for miles to see a visiting lama. It is not uncommon to see common people at a temple or shrine doing full prostrations to an image of the Buddha. In Mexico or Tibet, this is not a blind faith. It is a faith so embedded in the culture that the individual and the building and the ritual are not separate. Connecting with a spiritual path is easier in a culture like this — a lot of time can be wasted coming to terms with doubt.
In North America, we have a different culture — one that is materialistic and individualistic. Citizens are literate and often highly educated. For Catholics, a combination of declining birthrates in North America and a growing secularism in the culture has meant that, except for Latin American immigrants, the church has had to try to make itself relevant to a population that is distracted and distant from a culture that embodies the values of the Church.
Oddly, at least for members of the dominant secular culture in North America, this is also the situation for practitioners of Buddhism.(like me) who seek to establish the religion in North America. Of course Buddhism in North America is insignificant compared to the size and influence of the Catholic Church. But our small centers have attracted many new people — typically people who aren’t members of another church. What has attracted them are teachings and meditation practices that, in Tibet, would be limited to monks and nuns who take vows and devote themselves to a life of practice. Where, in Tibet, lay Buddhists mostly engage in devotional practices, in North America, lay practitioners study texts, practice daily and engage in extended retreats.
A lot of the initial appeal for North American lay Buddhists is the simplicity and pragmatic spiritual connection that begins with shamatha practice. Smart phones, advertising, television, computer games, etc. are so ubiquitous that people are attracted and want to connect with a practice that settles the mind and offers a gradual path to freedom from distraction. The settled, open mind that shamatha cultivates makes it possible then to engage in more devotional practices and practices that cultivate virtue.
I mention this simply to say that i don’t think Catholics are off base in engaging in mindfulness practice and making it their own. The practice has the ability to allow a deep spiritual connection to grow in people living in our confusing, distracted, secular world. Catholics have always found ways to co-opt local culture and bind it to the teachings of the Church. There was no Virgin of Guadalupe before the Catholic Church came to Mexico. The teachings, of course, have to be true to the doctrine of the Church. But I would think that the Church would welcome experimentation of devoted Catholics like Mr. Bottaro — as they take a tool like mindfulness practice and see if they can make it part of Catholic tradition in a genuine way.. .
Sorry, — Dr. Bottaro
So glad I found your site! Thanks for sharing all your inspiring ideas. Actually I ran into such situation when I can’t concentrate during the period of people’s speaking.
Hi, Joseph. We all deal with these distractions. They often come from inordinate attachments to things/activities/our will, bad habits, laziness, or just the weakened human condition after the Fall. We just have to find the balance between being so concerned about them that we start practicing Eastern meditation techniques, or being so indifferent to them that we sin against charity. I hope to have more suggestions in separate posts soon.
Pingback: Contemplative HomeschoolIs Mindfulness Catholic? |
thanks Connie, and Thank you, God the Holy Spirit for giving us insight like this.. in JMJ, SPENCER SPEEDY
Dr Bottaro’s first book is out, “The Mindful Catholic: finding my God one moment at a time”. He has the support of his bishop, two carmelites (one is a definitor), the forward is by Peter Kreeft, not to mention a handful of other well-respected Catholics. Connie, it is pretty clear that you STILL do not understand mindfulness. I would love to see you dialogue with Kreeft on this topic. Perhaps he can assist you in your misunderstanding.
I am aware of Dr. Bottaro’s book and the fact that Peter Kreeft wrote the forward. Peter Kreeft has written some awesome books. However, he is not a theologian. I had Dr. Anthony Lilles, one of the most eminent spiritual theologians living today, as well as another respected theologian, review some of my writing on mindfulness. They agreed with my assessment. Unfortunately, some Carmelites even recommend Centering Prayer, which is blatantly New Age. I don’t know anything about the particular Carmelites who endorsed Bottaro’s work. Mindfulness at best is a great waste of one’s time and energy. If we pursue God, we will find peace, and it will be a lasting peace that does not require Buddhist meditation techniques to sustain it.
All of you and your cronies were calling for support of a bishop. He has that, and now, what? If Peter Kreeft and our bishop aren’t enough for you, you are on a witch hunt. To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. I pray for clarity for you and an end to your self righteousness.
Your assessment of Dr. Botaro’s work is not accurate. If I were critiquing something that could put my fellow Catholics in spiritual danger, I’d never apply the comment that, “at best [it] is a great waste of time and energy.” A waste of time and energy is of relatively little importance compared to something that actively leads you into spiritual misconceptions. It might be good to examine his work more closely and read through his responses to you so that you can take a firm stand either way, instead of ending with – this might be just a waste of your time.
Hi, Elizabeth. I wrote this article years ago when I was just starting to invesitgate the matter. Since then, I have dialogued extensively with Dr. Bottaro, both through social media and email. I have taken his course, read both his books, read a few other books on the subject, and read dozens of articles pro and con. And I have written many blog and social media posts — plus dealt with the issue in my book The Q & A Guide to Mental Prayer — as well. Dr. Bottaro, by his own admission, teaches Buddhist meditation techniques. Yes, I agree, that is more serious than just a waste of time. It’s destructive of one’s spiritual life.
Just as a matter of justice and truth, you have not dialogued extensively with me, nor have you finished any of the online resources I offered to you free of charge. I can track the metrics of exactly how many of the videos are watched. You barely went through 20% of my course. Still praying for you though! God bless you.
Well, let’s see. We had blog posts back and forth. We had discussions on my Facebook page. We had at least half a dozen emails back and forth. The metrics in your course are only accurate if someone goes through the course chronologically from begnning to end. I did not (and still do not) have time to view hour-plus videos. I did the reading and listened to the exercises, but skipped most of the videos. I have at least 17 pages of notes I took on the course. After we reached the point in our discussion where I found out that you knew that Kabat-Zinn had recieved a vision while doing Buddhist meditation as the inspiration to create the MBSR, and you base your course on that, and that you are knowingly teaching people Buddhist meditation techniques and see no problem with either of these, I decided that further discussion (and viewing of the videos, which seemed to be a repitition of what was written) was futile. I just looked and our email exchanges totalled 7775 words. I do call that extensive.
It seems it would be wise to actually read/take his course before making claims about his work. Your post and comments display a gross lack of understanding of what he is actually doing. More importantly there is such a lack of awareness about what many truly faithful, but struggling Catholics go through on a daily basis. Your final comments about what you should do instead of mindfulness are at best extremely unhelpful. Clearly you have no idea what it’s actually like to be a Catholic, trying to love God, but who struggles on a clinical level with anxiety, depression, scrupulosity etc. It takes more than a quick “Jesus I trust in you” to calm a real panic attack. Mindfulness the way Dr. Bottaro teaches it helps people navigate their humanity so that there is space for Jesus Christ in the mind and heart. He said it a million times before. It’s not prayer, it’s a tool to navigate minds that are crippled by thoughts and feelings that prevent prayer. Just praying away your mental health struggles hasn’t been working for a lot of people for many years now. Catholic Mindfulness is finally making some headway.
Hi, Sierra. I have read both his books, taken his course, and dialogued with him quite a bit. Dr. Bottaro teaches people to practice Buddhist meditation. That is not a good direction for Catholics to go in. And science is beginning to show that problems such as losing one’s sense of self are common with those who practice mindfulness, regardless of their aim in doing so. And, for the record, I have people close to me who struggle with depression and anxiety. Dr. Bottaro is not just aiming his work at them, but at the general Catholic population. Yes, a real panic attack takes more than what I’ve suggested. But it doesn’t necessitate Buddhist meditation.
I am a Catholic recovering from depression, with a daily struggle to trust God amidst the covid pandemic. The Mindful Catholic has taught me to do the SACRED PAUSE when my mind is in danger of going through an anxiety spiral. I have been in the dark slimy pit of depression. Through God’s love and the grace of Jesus death on the cross I have recovered. My psychiatrist recommended this book to me. It has helped me a lot to remind me to not doubt and trust God’s love that all will be well. ❤️ 🙏🏻 There is no danger since it has taught me to go back to
LOVE GOD WITH MY MIND.