Friday 23 March 2018

A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness - Susan Brinkmann

A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness
Susan Brinkmann
Dr. Anthony E. Clark, PhD. (Forward)
Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation
ISBN 9781976532795

This book was recommended to me by a spiritual director, it was recommended after I had concerns about another book I had been asked to review. I am so thankful I have read this book. This book put into words a lot about the unease I was feeling about the other title in my spirit. I am grateful I no longer feel the need to finish every book I start, and very thankful I did not finish, The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment at a Time by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. And I want to begin with what this book has that that book did not. This book has both a Nihil Obstat by Colin B. Donovan, S.T.L. and an Imprimatur: + by Robert J. Baker, S.T.D.. The Nihil Obstat is a certification by an official censor that this book is not objectionable on doctrinal or moral grounds from a Catholic theological perspective. And the Imprimatur is a license to print an approved ecclesiastical or religious book. Not only did those two items give me confidence in this book, I could hardly put this book down once I started. It was such a balanced and honest examination of the topic of Mindfulness and the compatibility with Catholic teaching and practice.

Dr. Clark in the introduction uses an analogy of a car:

"Common sense tells us that the direction one drives a car determines the place one arrives at, and spiritual practice is no different. When one understands well the intentions of Christian prayer and mindfulness, it is clear that, at their root, they point in contrasting directions. Buddhist techniques aim entirely at the locus of human experience, while Christian prayer is directed through and well beyond the human experience toward God. The fifth century Theravada monk, Buddhaghosa, is one of the most influential Buddhist writers on the intention and meaning of meditation practices such as sati, or mindfulness. Mindfulness, he suggests, is intended to remove one from the external world; it is largely anti-relational, for relationships bring about attachment, and attachment causes suffering."
So, if as a Christian you are driving the car of your mind, are you driving it towards God, or are you driving deeper and deeper into yourself. You can only be heading one direction. And as this example clearly indicates, Mindfulness practices in the Buddhist styles are leading you away from God!

Clark then states:

"Certainly, a relative or friend is capable of being unkind, and it is wise to avoid the abuse of others, but the goal of Buddhist meditation, according to Buddhaghosa, is to become entirely self-focused and free from the joys and attachments of relationships so that one can escape from pain and the misery of reincarnation."
And he contrasts that with Christian mental prayer:
"Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything."
Just from those few quotes from the introduction we clearly see where this book is coming from and why it is so needed today. And that is just the introduction the chapters in this book are:

What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness Goes Mainstream
The Science of Mindfulness
Do Buddhism and Catholicism Mix?
Mindfulness and Christian Prayer
Christian Alternatives to Mindfulness

This book starts with a history of mindfulness, both traditionally and as it has slowly gained popularity in the west. It also provides a clear history of how it spread in the west, including deliberate deceptiveness from it's early proponent and teachers. Then once it has established the origins of mindfulness, and it's infusion into western culture, and western psychology, it then proceeds to look at if that practice is compatible with Catholicism. From the conclusion that:

"The last chapter made it quite clear that mindfulness has no place in Christian prayer, either as a prelude, component, or adjunct. But that doesn't mean it's easy to resist. Mindfulness has become the latest fad, and all fads are accompanied by a certain amount of pressure for the individual to conform in order to be reap the social benefits of those who tend to follow fads. And fads are usually very profitable for those who promote them, which explains why mindfulness is surrounded by more hype than fact."
It then concludes with offering Christian alternatives to mindfulness. Brinkmann States:
"On this path, we learn that Christ comes to us in a new and living way every day, and in every moment of every day. For this reason, our attention must remain focused on all of the events that occur, minute-by-minute, from the trivial to the sublime, because this is how God speaks to us."
And that is really what it is about. Will mindfulness draw us closer to God or not. If it will not as Christians, as Catholics we should not be engaging in it, no matter how popular, who is teaching it, or who is encouraging it. If we return to the forward Clark stated:
"This timely book provides answers to the many Catholics who have asked priests, sisters, and scholars whether such practices as mindfulness are appropriate or helpful to Christian spiritual growth and personal peace. The author Susan Brinkman has not written this book to create antagonisms between Catholics and Buddhists or those who practice mindfulness, but rather to objectively explore the truth claims of both and reveal whether or not they are compatible, particularly with respect to the growing fad and focus on mindfulness."
And that is exactly what this book delivers. It is not written to pick a fight. It is not written to criticize specific people, institutions or practices. It is written so that we can know the truth, and as Jesus stated in John 14:6 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but through me.' And as this book clearly demonstrates Mindfulness does not focus on Jesus and therefore should be avoided!

This is an incredibly well written book. It is not a large volume coming in at 126 pages. But it packs a lot of meat. I really believe that every Catholic, every Christian should read this book, and they would have their eyes opened especially on the westernization of this Buddhist spiritual practice. I am very thankful this book was recommended to me and I recommend it to you.

Books by Susan Brinkmann:
We Need to Talk: God Speaks to a Modern: God Speaks to a Modern Girl
The Kinsey Corruption
A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness

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