For a year I shared the the weekly silence at the Royal College of Art with Aloka my Buddhist colleague. This was back in 2010-11. Since then I have been struck by the connections and differences between mindfulness and Christian meditation.
From the moment I first encountered mindfulness meditation practice I had a strong sense that ‘this is familiar, I know this!’
Something similar to Mindfulness to be found in the ‘Centering Prayer’ of John Main and the ‘World Community for Christian Meditation’ of Laurence Freeman. Both of these teachers were building on their monastic patterns of prayer. And there is also something in mindfulness of what Christians have called the ‘practice of the presence of God’ or sometimes ‘the practice of the present moment’.
Another connection is around ‘self-acceptance’. In Mindfulness we know that our minds will wander. The leader of the meditation often says that when we realise that our mind has wandered we could ‘simply and gently without any self -judgement return our attention back to observing our breathing’. This learning of self-acceptance is also part of the Christian tradition of Ignatius and his daily review.
So, there is a long tradition in Christian meditative prayer that knowing oneself is a place of encounter with God – God meets us where we actually are. Clearly the belief frameworks that go with Mindfulness or Christian meditation are different. Yet, some of the actually experiences are very similar.
The other connection I can see is with Anthony De Mello’s ‘Awareness’ – a book that came out in 1990. De Mello was a Christian and a Jesuit priest from India who was very familiar with Hinduism and Buddhism. He was also a psychotherapist.
And now my Buddhist and Hindu colleagues – Karuna and Sachi- tell me that Mindfulness and Awareness are both acceptable translations of the Sanskrit word ‘smriti’.
Which leads me to the Christian tradition of the ‘Prayer of the heart’ – which is certainly an invitation to move attention or ‘awareness’ from the mind into the body. But more on this, and Henri Nouwen’s writing about it, another time.