Mindfulness Meditation vs. the Sacrament of the Present Moment

MM asks: Is there anything wrong with Mindfulness Meditation? It sounds like it’s nothing more than living in the present moment. Could there be anything wrong with that?

In a word – yes.

The technique known as Mindfulness Meditation is the brainchild of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biomedical scientist and founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In 1979, he developed something called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) which is an 8-week course combining meditation and Hatha yoga to help patients cope with stress, pain, and illness through moment-to-moment awareness.

Kabat-Zinn is also a board member of the Mind and Life Institute, an organization dedicated to exploring the relationship of science and Buddhism as ways to better understand the nature of reality.

This is where Mindfulness Meditation comes from. It appears to incorporate qualities from Centering Prayer/Transcendental Meditation techniques aimed at suppressing thought.

It also reminded me of another New Age guru, Eckhart Tolle, who teaches another version of living in the present moment known as the “Now.” Tolle claims that once we arrive in the “Now” our problems will no longer exist and we will finally discover our true selves as being already complete and perfect (which eliminates the need for a Savior).

I’m not surprised that Mindfulness Meditation has crept into the health care industry because of Kabat-Zinn’s medical background. Clinical applications of MBSR probably don’t broadcast these Eastern roots, much like Reiki, Therapeutic Touch and Yoga are also widely used in clinical settings without sufficient explanation to patients. 

However, we Catholics have our own method of living in the present moment which is explained by the late great spiritual director, Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the book, The Sacrament of the Present Moment. This practice involves the realization that every event in our lives, from the most ordinary to the most spectacular, are all manifestations of God’s will for us. It teaches us to experience every moment – such as this very moment as you read these words – as a holy sacrament because God is at work in it. As we acquire this holy practice, God becomes much more real to us, much more a part of our lives, and a true Companion on our journey.

Another good book which complements the above work is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. This Catholic classic teaches us how to converse with God throughout the day, not just at prayer time. Brother Lawrence wrote that this practice brought him such joy in life that he actually begged God to stop it because he couldn’t take so much happiness.

The bottom line is that we don’t need Buddhist practices or New Age techniques to enjoy the benefits of living in the present moment. We can use our own methods to accomplish this in ways that will benefit not just our minds and bodies, but our souls as well.

This blog contains more information about Kabat-Zinn and his writings.

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