Established Christian traditions offer much wisdom about the negative aspects of spirituality, argues Christopher Dingwall-Jones.
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Recent reports have suggested, however, that some people experience negative effects from practising it. Christian avults regularly mention both the benefits and negative effects of practices similar to mindfulness, and recovering both strands of such Christian traditions is part of what the Church can offer to those interested in a deeper spirituality. Although the current secular fashion for mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, there is a strong wit of similar practices in Christianity.
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The ideas of Looking for muscular adults friend with a dark side watchfulness and hesychasm stillnessfound in the Desert Fathers and later Eastern Orthodox tradition, offer clear parallels to the attentiveness suggested by modern mindfulness. The Western Christian tradition also contains a strong meditative strand, from the mystical heights of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, to the popular devotions of the rosary. Br Richard Hendrick, a Franciscan friar and mindfulness teacher, says that, for Christians: Whether practised in a Christian context or not, mindfulness and meditation have widely attested health benefits, as well as spiritual ones.
They are recommended by the NHS as a way to improve mental well-being, and by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence for helping those who have had depression to avoid relapse.
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More scientific research has also noted adverse effects. As far back asFriennd Shapiro, a professor in psychiatry and human behaviour at the University of California, Irvine, observed in a study of the effects of meditation that, out of 27 subjects, 63 per cent had experienced negative effects, such as anxiety, depression, sobbing, and mild dissociation.
Both Eastern and Western Christian traditions also refer regularly to adverse effects of this kind.
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The mystics offer valuable guidance, which is grounded in musccular deeper experience of the spiritual. One insight is the importance of maintaining a link between physical practices of meditation and the spirituality that underpins them.
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This understanding of mindfulness and meditation is different from the ways in which these practices are presented in contemporary secular culture. This kind of language leaves no space for painful experiences, so muecular if negative emotions do arise while engaging in mindful practice, there is no framework in which to explain them.
CHRISTIAN mindfulness, in the tradition of the mystics, should be able to expect and understand the negative emotions that can Loooking during meditation. If Christian mindfulness means to consciously come into the presence of God, it also means to be united more closely to Christ, sharing in his crucified and risen life.
Life friene Christ also, fundamentally, means life in community. Meditation does not draw us into ourselves, promising individual success and well-being; it draws us into communion with God and with others.
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It is not enough simply to aide explanations for why distressing experiences might occur during meditation. Since the Christian life is a common life, founded in baptism and the eucharist, so the meditative life also relies on this shared element.
A spiritual director who has first-hand knowledge of desolation is essential in helping individuals through such experiences. Christian mindfulness, then, is about both proximity to God in prayer, and proximity to others in common life.
It is a truly integrated and holistic practice, at once contemporary and ancient.
It faces honestly the fact that meditation is a spiritual labour, not a quick fix; less introspective self-improvement than difficult and self-abandonment, focused on the other. This ancient understanding of Christian meditation, in which the soul grows in awareness of the fullness of the living God, corrects some of the platitudes of secular mindfulness at frienx most banal.
It is part of what the Church can offer to a society that is yearning after a deeper, more honest spirituality. He holds a Ph.
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Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Monday 25 February Facing the dark side of modern mindfulness. Other stories Meditation can help shopaholics.
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