Several months ago I wrote some controversial posts regarding mindfulness. Many of you have been waiting to hear my opinion of Dr. Gregory Bottaro’s course Catholic Mindfulness, which he graciously gave me free access to. I do not want to do an in-depth, point-by-point critique of the course. I did not finish taking the course, partly because the long videos (about 90 minutes each) for each chapter were too time-consuming. Partly because Dr. Bottaro and I disagree strongly on some fundamentals that overshadow the smaller elements, good or bad, that may become clear in further study. But also, perhaps especially, because I want to address mindfulness in general, not make this what some people call “an attack” on Dr. Bottaro or his work.
I hope to write several short posts on the problems with mindfulness from a Catholic perspective. When relevant, I will mention points from Dr. Bottaro’s course.
At the outset, I will say this: Dr. Bottaro strives to infuse his course with a Catholic worldview. He encourages students to read some spiritual classics and to learn to trust in God. So if you are set on practicing mindfulness, his course is probably the best way for a Catholic to do so. However, I would urge you, for the sake of your spiritual health, to avoid any and all mindfulness courses, including Dr. Bottaro’s Catholic Mindfulness. His course, by his own public admission, hues closely to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) of Jon Kabat-Zinn. The MBSR, which is the basis of most secular mindfulness courses, is full of pitfalls for Catholics.
A series on the problems with mindfulness
Here, briefly, are the points I hope to address in more detail in this series of posts, which given my current circumstances will probably take several months to complete.
- The origins of the MBSR should be a red flag to every Catholic interested in mindfulness.
- Mindfulness is different from Christian recollection and does not help you practice it.
- While some Buddhists do not consider Buddhism a religion, Buddhist practices are widely considered spiritual practices.
- Mindfulness is intimately connected with Buddhist meditation practices.
- Buddhist detachment is different from Christian detachment.
- We must let go of the peace that comes from techniques if we wish to become contemplatives.
- There is good in other religions, but that does not mean Christians should take up their practices.
- Mindfulness practice takes time and energy that should be devoted to prayer and recollection.
- The sketchy science of mindfulness.
I will not necessarily address these points in order, and some posts may cover more than one point.
A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness
Now, some of you are probably wondering if I’ll be writing a book on mindfulness, similar to my book Is Centering Prayer Catholic? Thankfully, I don’t have to! Susan Brinkmann of Women of Grace has just published A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness. Her book is excellently written and meticulously researched. She covers the problems with the science behind mindfulness and the origins of the MBSR in great detail. She also explains Buddhist thought and how it differs from Christian thought. Dr. Anthony E. Clarke, an associate professor of Chinese History and expert in the relationship between Eastern religions and Christianity, wrote the forward to the book.
If I do write a book on the subject, I hope to focus on Christian recollection, accenting the positive alternative to mindfulness, rather than talking about the problems of mindfulness. And I hope to write many posts on this positive and vital practice in the meantime.
If you have a question about one of the 9 points above, I ask you to wait for the post on the subject. I will not have the time to answer questions in great detail right now. However, I welcome your comments on the points this post covers. I also welcome your suggestions for exploring other aspects of the problem that I did not mention.
Older post on Mindfulness:
Mindfulness is the New Centering Prayer
Yoga, Centering Prayer, and Mindfulness, Part I
Yoga, Centering Prayer, and Mindfulness, Part II
7 thoughts on “Is Mindfulness Catholic?”
Thank you for writing about this topic! I`m eager to learn more about it. Years ago I bought some books about mindfulness and MBSR, it all looked very promising about stress reduction and taking good care of oneself. It was also interesting to read. Something felt very strange to me and I could not see what it was. I can say, that reading this books and assimilating these thoughts have changed my way of seeing the world and God and Catholicism. Slowly (and without me seeing what happens) I have distanced myself from my connection with our Lord, then also from the Church. Thank you for helping me see why this has happened. There were other important factors too (to which I was blind also, like Byron Katies “The Work”), but yes, the whole philosophy behind it IS very different from Christianity. And it is not easy to see why and put your finger to show where.
Since fully coming back to Church I didn`t have any appetite for mindfulness anymore and now I want to get rid of these books.
Your number 6 sounds very intriguing. “We must let go of THAT peace..” Yes. The price for that kind of peace my be spiritually way to high.
Yes, and no. 6 is something that most Catholic proponents of mindfulness do not understand. Even the peaceful feelings from consolations in prayer that come from God Himself must be purged in the dark night. If we hang on to feelings of peace, rather than the true peace that comes from embracing God’s will, we will never be holy.
Thank you Connie. I am really interested in reading your future posts on this subject.
Thank you so much Connie. It is so refreshing to hear a sane voice God in all this noise of techniques. God is a simple God who only wish for us to draw near to us through relationship. Techniques do not lead to relationship whether in a natural or supernatural world.
You’ve hit on the essential problem, Sarah–technique versus relationship. We post-moderns think a technique should be a quick fix for anything. But intimacy with God is a long, slow process.
As a reminder, “mindfulness” in this case is a psychological term used to describe an approach for reducing anxiety and depression and boosting coping skills in everyday life. Dr. Bottaro is integrating this scientific concept with Catholic anthropological truth that underlies all reality. His work is intended as a psychological resource and not meant to be a replacement for Catholic prayer. His approach is holistic. Just as we nourish our physical health, we can also nurture our mental well being to remove obstacles and help us flourish all around.
He is still teaching Buddhist meditation techniques, which are incompatible with Christian prayer, whether they themselves are done outside prayer or not. We cannot “nurture our mental health” through problematic practices, just as there are some medical interventions that may lead to physical health but are prohibited for Catholics.