MEDITATION AS THE ESSENTIAL ACTIVITY OF THE RIGHTEOUS
In the last decade, the field of psychotherapy and counseling has become suffused with the practice of meditation and mindfulness as a form of meditative practice. One need only to scan the catalogs of publishers in the mental health literature or the conference schedules of the major organizations in secular psychology, psychotherapy, and counseling to determine the vast extent to which these practices are now quite commonplace as interventions in the field. This development obviously reflects a variation of an integration of Eastern religious practice into the discipline of psychology. Though the proponents of meditation and mindfulness attempt to divorce it from its religious moorings, its origins are clearly Buddhist; it is, after all, one element of the eightfold path that is the essence of Buddhist practice. And, though they promote mindfulness as a non-sectarian practice on the grounds of research demonstrating its effectiveness in emotional regulation, anxiety reduction, and more, it is, at least, striking that many of its most significant promoters are adherents of Buddhism.
Given the close ties of meditation and mindfulness with Buddhism, the preponderance of it in the literature and practice of mental health counseling creates a dilemma for Christian practitioners. As one might imagine, the response of Christian practitioners has been quite varied. Some embrace meditation/mindfulness, seeming to accept that it can be practiced apart from its religious origins and associated pantheistic worldview and, thus, presents no contradiction with the Christian faith. As a person of Catholic Christian faith (at least, assuming that is still the case), Marsha Linehan (1993) represents this approach, given the inclusion of mindfulness in DBT. Other Christians have advocated for a more cautious approach, though incorporating it nonetheless (for a representation of this approach, see Symington & Symington, 2012). Finally, others, such as Johnson (2011), have posited that mindfulness cannot be easily dissociated from its origins, and, further, that we need not look to other faith traditions for meditative practice since we have similar practices replete within our own Christian tradition. Given the heavy promotion of mindfulness even in our popular culture, I am sure the debate among Christians regarding it will continue.
As an adherent of Christian psychology, I would join Johnson in advocating for recapturing the practice of meditation from within our own Christian tradition rather than incorporating mindfulness-meditative practice, whether explicitly Buddhist or non-sectarian. I would contend that, even if mindfulness-meditation can be unshackled from its religious origins, the non-sectarian form of it represents not a neutral practice, but a secular humanist and postmodern one. Even the premise of value-neutrality and the practice of enshrining mindfulness as non-sectarian while justifying its inclusion using the language of science is indicative of secularism and no less sectarian than our own Christian theism.
For these reasons, in this month’s series of blogs, I will promote the practice of biblical meditation as a far more compatible alternative to mindfulness-meditation for Christian mental health practitioners. Using the book of Psalms as a lens through which to explore the biblical practice of meditation, I hope to commend it, not simply as a helpful practice, but as an essential practice for faithful followers of Christ. Throughout this series, I invite you, the reader, to join me in dialogue regarding the ideas promoted herein; I welcome your comments.
[Dr. Michael D. Cook currently serves as an Associate Professor in Huntington University’s Graduate Counseling Program. His undergraduate degree is in Sociology (B.A.) from Albany State University, his advanced degrees are a M.Div. in Pastoral Ministries and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Counseling from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (IN) and has served in several mental health facilities and in several churches. He specializes in marital therapy, trauma therapy, spiritual formation and formational counseling.]
Johnson, E. (2011). Mindfulness and Christianity. Blog of the Society for Christian Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.christianpsych.org/wp_scp/mindfulness-and-christianity/.
Linehan, M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford.
Symington, S., and Symington, M. (2012). A Christian model of mindfulness: Using mindfulness principles to support psychological well-being, value-based behavior, and the Christian spiritual journey. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 31, 71-77.