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Is Biospiritual Focusing Okay for Catholics

We recently had a caller on EWTN’s Wacky Wednesday radio show who said a local Catholic retreat center was offering biospiritual focusing. She wondered if this was a New Age practice and if it was something that belongs in a Catholic retreat facility.

It didn’t take long to find an answer to her question. Even a cursory review of the website revealed that this is a questionable practice for Catholics who are seeking a deeper connection with God.

BioSpiritual Focusing was developed by two Jesuit priests: Fr. Ed McMahon and Fr. Peter Campbell out of the work of Gene Gendlin, a student of the very New Age humanist psychologist Carl Rogers.

As the FAQ explains, “BioSpiritual Focusing is a spiritual practice that centers on developing the habit of noticing and nurturing the inner wisdom of our bodies that connects us to the wider Cosmos and the Divine. It opens up the ‘body’ side of our spirituality.”

In this video featuring Fr. McMahon, he uses an African statue of a man with a hand on his stomach and the other hand on his head as an example of what it means to focus on the body and let it inform us of what to do. He speaks about a body process called focusing that enables us to experience the “gift” of the transcendent, “the gift beyond all names that we give such terms as God, the Great Spirit, the spirit of the tribe, departed ancestors, and so forth.”

It’s not surprising that there would be so many interpretations of this “gift”, he says, “because we all share the same human body as living cells of the same larger or global body, so for centuries, for millennia, people have sensed that their body is the doorway into the global body, that through their body we bridge this supposed distance. We are the bridge.”

Hence, the premise for biospiritual focusing is explained on the website as providing a means for us to learn how to allow our bodies to help us experience the Divine. Until now, “spirituality has been taught and practiced from the neck up” and our bodies and feelings are portrayed as a barrier to experiencing the Divine, the site claims.

Although biospiritual focusing is put forth as an ecumenical practice, it is hardly appropriate for Catholics who are looking to deepen their connection with God. This is because God is spirit, which means physical feelings outside of consolations have little or nothing to do with “experiencing” Him. He is more than capable of transcending the senses when He wants to communicate with us.

A good example would be infused (passive) contemplation which has nothing to do with either the body or the mind. Rather, in this type of experience, God communicates with us soul-to-soul, so to speak. It’s not something that’s practiced “from the neck up” - or from the neck down, for that matter.

As the spiritual masters, such as Fr. J. P. DeCaussade and Francois Fenelon teach us, feelings are the “dregs” of grace. This is because they are subject to every shifting “wind” of emotion. The last thing we want to do is rely on our emotions and bodily sensations to determine if we’re making a connection with God because, being spirit, He cannot be known through the senses. God is known through faith alone, which is a matter of the will.

In another nine-minute YouTube video by a priest named Fr. David Robinson that explains the origins of biospiritual focusing, I was surprised that God’s name was not mentioned even one time in the presentation. Father speaks about how his mother taught him the habit of “felt-sensing,” how to just be there and notice what happens inside ourselves. If we do this, there’s an “inner teacher” and a “wisdom teacher” that we should learn from if we want to experience growth.

Could this “inner teacher” be the Holy Spirit? Again, there was no mention of Him, only this nebulous concept of some kind of inner knowing that we can tap into through biospiritual focusing.

“Look not with your mind, but with your body,” Father says in the video. “If you can find a way to live in your body and not reject any of it…there’s the caring, feeling, presence…there’s the beginning of that realization – then you will be guided into discovering the wisdom you sense in nature all around you.”

According to the website, this is because our bodies are more than just physical biological systems. “They are our direct connection not only to our immediate surroundings but they also make our interaction with the entire Universe a possibility. They hold the energy of all our life experiences and contain the implicit potential of the next best step forward toward a life of fullness, authenticity and compassion. In their connection to the Universe our bodies are our direct link to the Spirit that fills the Universe (the Divine, the “More”, or whatever imperfect name one might give to That which is beyond us ).”

Although the answer to our caller’s question should be obvious by now, biospiritual focusing does not belong in a Catholic retreat center because incorporating this practice into Catholic spiritual formation will be more of a hindrance than a help in promoting genuine spiritual growth.

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