Secular mindfulness needs a rethink

Mindful walking in a natural cathedral one feels a connection with totality.

I’ve been reading Christian literature again. This is an odd experience. Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and now Abbot Christopher Jamison have been working to make me a better Buddhist.

In Finding Sanctuary (Orion Books 2006) Jamison differentiates between prayer and meditation roughly like this:

  • Prayer is a personal conversation with God using “I” and “You”. It may use words or be wordless.
  • Meditation (in the Benedictine Christian sense) is a technique such as a repeated phrase: ‘Oh God come to my assistance’ on the in breath; ‘Oh Lord make haste to help me’ on the out breath. Or it could involve the slow digestive reading of texts – often the Bible.

My understanding is that the role of meditation here is to make one more able to speak with God – to pray.

Secular meditation is just a technique. It may be good for lowering the blood pressure or making one tolerate the intolerable but it is basically empty without prayer as its purpose.

This fits well with my continuing exploration of the notion of secular Mindfulness that springs from my experience of Mindfulness not feeling secular at all.

Having read Finding Sanctuary whilst on a brief retreat I now feel comfortable referring to what I do when I practice as prayer. I come into the present moment and am there for whatever is present. And what is present is the absolute, the ultimate, the wordless and some might say God. And the object of doing this is a personal conversation, communication, connection or interbeing.

I wonder if the interpretation of Buddhist meditation into the West has been to pull it apart from the prayer that was always integrated in the East. By mapping what Buddhists did onto the meditation part of Christian practice the aspect of prayer was lost and this made it more attractive to a secular, scientific approach.

The kick is in the fact that if you practice Mindfulness sincerely you will move to a place of prayer where insight occurs. In Christian terms you will hear God speak to you. The only way for this not to happen is not to engage fully in the process.

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