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Unsure About Mindfulness and RELIGION?

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When discussing mindfulness practices with those who are unfamiliar with them, you can usually expect to receive one of the following three reactions when broaching the topic of mindfulness and religion...

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What People Often Think?

  1. Consider mindfulness as a spiritual practice
  2. Fear mindfulness as anti-their-religion or heretical
  3. Seem unsure what mindfulness is

What we hope to provide below is a comprehensive answer to the angles posited above. 

Are Mindfulness and Religion The Same?

Short Answer: No. Mindfulness and religion are not the same, however, the origins of mindfulness are rooted in religious practice. Many of the most popular schools of secular mindfulness, such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Breathworks Mindfulness for Health/Pain are based on practices found in Buddhism. 

Many of the teaching practitioners of mindfulness courses are in fact themselves believers in God at the very least, and more broadly adhere to some form of system of belief in a greater power. 

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Can I Practice Mindfulness If I Am Not Religious?

Short Answer: Yes. Mindfulness has defined itself from other types of meditation practice by stating very clearly that it is a secular movement and that no belief or dogmatic ascription is required by its followers.

The result has been that millions of people around the world have been attracted to mindfulness because of this inclusive approach. People adopt the practice as a tool to support their daily routines.

Mindfulness cannot however be separated from its religious heritage.

Whilst this seems like an immediate contradiction to the above, it is not. What it means is that the practice cannot be separated from its roots. Let’s use a metaphor to explain…

Certain foods are inextricably linked to a region of the world (pizza/Italian/European) but you can find many forms of pizza around the world, such as Lahmacun in Asia, Mannoush in Africa or Deep Dish in America. Some forms of pizza are directly related to their origins – Deep Dish or Chicago Town is inextricably linked Italian migration to the USA. For others, the ethos is the same – flat bread base, tomato sauce, cheese and toppings baked in a fire oven – but the origin is completely devoid of any Italian links.

The above metaphor aims to show that sometimes, human beings come up with the same idea independently, and sometimes it is linked to the same root. Mindfulness is like this too, where some forms are Buddhist origin, some are Buddhist inspired and others are the result of practices developed by other belief systems, completely independently.

Can I Practice Mindfulness If I Am Religious?

Short answer: Yes. Mindfulness and religion are compatible. Whatever your journey to mindfulness is, it is worth understanding the origins of the practice and widening your perspective. If you are religious, perhaps explore the history of meditation and prayer, consider the links between these practices and that of the particular mindfulness course or series you are engaged in.

As a Near Eastern Christian, I was able to connect many of the mindfulness practices I had come across in the secular world, to the monastic and hermitic history of my particular Maronite Christian roots. Many of you may never have heard of the Maronites – having lived and worked with monks at various points in my life, I saw the mindful ethos expressed in the ways they lived their lives consciously, practised prayer and meditation daily, applied their practice of faith to everyday matters and employed strategies to connect to the presence of God.

Christian mindfulness or meditation practices can be traced to this very region and as such have their own roots and origin story detached completely from that of the Far East, or typical Buddhist schools of thought. Some of the more traditional terms for Christian Mindfulness include words like ‘watchfulness‘ and there are lots of great resources you could explore online around the history of the practice.

So too, you will find this ethos in all religions in some form; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Paganism just to name a few. As such, the origins do not need to feed directly into the practice, but they can if you so wish, and an appreciation of the origins and nuances between different practices certainly will assist develop an overall sense of purpose and direction.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness and religion are compatible.

If you have just begun the journey into the world of mindfulness, take a moment to reflect on your own background. When thinking about mindfulness and religion, consider asking yourself, what religious, cultural and familial roots contribute to my identity. You could do some searching on the internet for relevant articles about the links between prayer, meditation and mindfulness practices. If you are not religious, there is now an abundance of science-based research and findings about the effects of these practices on our mental health and wellbeing, and you can link to a sense of community as part of wider society.

Be open and inquisitive! Learning and appreciating the rich heritage from which mindfulness has emerged does not necessarily mean having to believe in or ascribe to every aspect. What it can do is open up your mind to the possibility of growth from within your own tradition and highlight coalescence of the global human experience.

If you are interested in learning more, why not check out some of the resources on our Getting Started or read some of our other blog posts below!

Picture of John-Paul Kozah

John-Paul Kozah

John-Paul is the Founder of Benefits of Mindfulness and has been committed to working with and supporting the most vulnerable members of society throughout his career. Combining experience in the mental health sector and education, his aim has been to raise awareness about the impact of stress, anxiety and depression in modern life and explore the ways that mindfulness can help. John-Paul is a trained advocate, qualified teacher and has a particular interest in supporting open dialogue about mental health within minoritised ethnic groups.

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