mindfulness: taming the monkey

By Marcia Montenegro (page 2 of 2)

Stress is the New Bogeyman

At the urging of the Dalai Lama through his Mind and Life Institute, neuroscientists have been doing studies on the brains of meditators.10 A study with only 16 people showed a "decrease in gray matter in the amygdala, a region of the brain that affects fear and stress, which correlated with a change in self-reported stress levels."11 Whether this decrease really indicates stress reduction, temporary or permanent, is not known. Showing cause and effect in the brain is difficult with something as vague and varied as meditation (there are a variety of ways to meditate). Moreover, there are other ways to reduce stress.

Several corporations, such as Google, Target, and General Mills, offer Mindfulness training and seminars to their employees as a stress reduction program, as do business schools Claremont Graduate University and Harvard Business School.12

There has been a great effort on the part of alternative treatment practitioners to emphasize stress in the culture, which then allows them to advocate their particular remedies for it. Mindfulness therapy is now extensively used in psychology and psychotherapy.

Has anyone considered that instead of taking time to learn a stress reduction technique, it would be more valuable and practical to use that time playing board games, taking a walk, strolling in a park, relaxing to soft music, reading a good book, taking a nap, developing a hobby, or one of many other pleasant activities that people enjoy? Studies have shown that such activities lower blood pressure and bring down heart rates.

Mindfulness is the New Education

At least two articles in Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine (October 2011 and May 2014) have featured and promoted Mindfulnesss for children. The 2011 article, "It’s All In Your Mind," by Lynne Ticknor, promotes Mindfulness, along with a brief interview of Goldie Hawn and her Buddhist-based Mind-Up program for schools. Hawn, like many other celebrities, is a devotee of Mindfulness. The article refers to Mindfulness as "based in the philosophy of Buddhism" and quickly adds, "But it's not religion" and "there are no spiritual overtones."13

Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, has been teaching Mindfulness and promoting it in inner city schools through her foundation, Inner Kids Foundation. In an interview, Greenland said this about the link of Mindfulness to Buddhism:

"The Buddhist foundations/applications of the secular mindfulness work can be a great strength rather than an Achilles heel if reframed as a well-established, evidence based training protocol shown to reduce stress, improve immune function, develop executive function and attention with measurable results when it comes to changes not just in the health and wellness of the individual but also in the likelihood of an individual who has undergone that training in engaging in social, compassionate action."14

She acknowledges that Buddhism is the foundation of Mindfulness, but implies that if Mindfulness can be "reframed" using terms related to mental health and stress reduction, then the messy issue of religion can be circumvented.

The Scholastics article states that children are taught to focus on their breathing, "an age-old exercise in finding calm and balance -- or their 'center.'"15 One photograph in the print edition shows a mother and child sitting in lotus position with eyes closed. Another shows two young children (about age 6) sitting side-by-side in a lotus position with eyes closed. Clearly, there is more than just breathing going on.

Zen Buddhism is primarily a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism which came from China, called Chan (Zen in Japan). Controlling breath was part of controlling and balancing chi (viewed as a universal life force), thus achieving health and longevity (in Taoist thinking). This idea of the breath as centering is very similar to the Taoist teaching that one must base one's self in the flow of chi and thus balance the two forces of yin and yang.

Even if the children are not doing a full-on Mindfulness meditation (which would be difficult for most children), they are being introduced to it, taught how to do it, and told that it is the way to deal with their feelings. Being told that this is how to deal with anger or fear may also give the subtle message that emotions are a bad thing.

Mindfulness as taught in schools is communicating to a child that he should always be calm, always clear-headed, always in control. This certainly could convey a negative message to more emotional children, and to children with various psychological, neurological, and emotional problems, as well as making them self-conscious about their feelings.

Some educators are using visualization, meditation CDs and an iPad or iPhone app called BellyBio, "that helps regulate breathing rhythms."16 Guided visualization is a form of hypnosis, so this should cause alarm, if indeed this form of visualization is being used.

Interestingly, Scholastic is the parent company of MindUP, the program started by actress and practicing Buddhist Goldie Hawn. Scholastic is a global enterprise, creating and distributing

"...educational and entertaining materials and products for use in school and at home, including children's books, magazines, technology-based products, teacher materials, television programming, feature film, videos and toys. Scholastic distributes its products and services through a variety of channels, including proprietary school-based book clubs, school-based book fairs, retail stores, schools, libraries and television networks; and Scholastic.com."17

The advocacy of Mindfulness by a corporate giant such as Scholastic is a prime example of how Eastern beliefs are being endorsed and disseminated in the culture. Is this not a type of therapy being foisted on children without parental consent? Are children, especially in the lower grades, able to handle such information? Should children be made to worry about their emotions? At the very least, using Mindfulness should be a decision for a parent, not for the school or educators.

Parents would benefit from monitoring carefully what is going on in their child's classroom. They need to ask for information on all the activities are that take place in the class. Parents can talk to the teacher or principal and ask to opt their child out based on religious views. Even if the school denies that Mindfulness is religious, the parent can state that it conflicts with his or her faith.

The Mind and God

Whereas thoughts and thinking get in the way of spiritual enlightenment according to Mindfulness, God tells us that thinking and reason are part of how God wired us, since man is made in His image and having a mind is part of that. Reason and thought are rooted in God’s character. "And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind'" (Matt. 22:37).

Moreover, the world is God's creation. It is not a mere illusory phenomenon of rising and falling. The world was created good, became corrupt through man's sin, but one day will be restored (Genesis 1, 3; Romans 5; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

Any teaching that the mind or thinking is negative or prevents spiritual understanding is at odds with the nature of God as an intelligent Being of reason. In giving us His word in the 66 books of the Bible, He expects thinking and reasoning since language cannot function without them. Using the terms chattering mind or monkey mind denigrates the mind God gave us.

Should You Practice Mindfulness?

Practicing Mindfulness meditation on a fairly regular basis may eventually lead the person to be open to or adopt the worldview behind it, because that is the purpose and effect of this meditation. Mindfulness experience tends to validate itself, leading the practitioner to believe that the process of detachment is at work. However, since the self is real and permanent, there can be no true detachment. Therefore, no liberation or true peace ever results from Mindfulness.

Buddhism teaches that there is no supreme God, no mind, and no permanent individual self. Ultimate reality is sunyata, a term loosely translated as the void, or emptiness, which refers to the ultimate impersonal reality of formlessness from which all has allegedly arisen. Mindfulness rests on the belief that the world is full of rising and falling, and peace comes only with the cessation of rising and falling. But how can there be experience of joy or peace in formlessness, when nothing with self or identity is there?

If you are a Christian, the rationale and goal of Mindfulness is in conflict with a Christian worldview. Mindfulness has nothing in common with biblical meditation, which is thoughtful contemplation and pondering of God's word; nor is it prayer. Biblical meditation and prayer do not intend to go beyond thought, either to achieve a mystical oneness with God, or to "hear" from God. Prayer in the Bible is always presented as verbal praise, petition, confession, and expression of gratitude to God.

The tests on Mindfulness and its effects on the brain and behavior, often at the behest of the Dalai Lama's organizations and those who promote Mindfulness, are yielding what appears to be evidence of positive changes in terms of clarity and calmness. However, the tests cannot measure spiritual effects or the possible spiritual cost. Engagement in a method designed with a spiritual purpose has the high potential to bring about spiritual effects. Furthermore, why encourage a practice that promises a counterfeit peace? Christians know that true peace comes solely through reconciliation with God through faith in Christ?

The concept of needing detachment goes against biblical teaching on necessary ties to the past and future: that we should remember what God has done for us through the atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ, and vividly keep before us the imminent return of Christ, our true Hope. There are many desires that are good, and desire to know God more deeply through prayer, Bible study, and worship nourishes believers in Christ. There is no need to fear attachment or good desires.

Mindfulness and the practice of Christianity do not mesh and cannot peacefully co-exist.


1 Quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh, http://bit.ly/1rvKNYo and http://bit.ly/1Hc0Dv1

2
The Dalai Lama, An Open Heart, Boston/New York/London: Little, Brown and Company, 2001, 86.

3 Reputed to be the last words of Buddha (though some sources dispute this), http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/btg/btg94.htm

4 "Monkey Mind & Buddha Mind," 2-28-10, http://bit.ly/1zrW21O

5 Ibid.

6 Los Angeles Times, "Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not," Nomi Morris, 10-2-2010, http://lat.ms/1tf8v6K

7 Ibid.

8 Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, NY: Doubleday; Revised & Updated edition, March 21, 2006, 153, 169, 224.

9 Some Buddhist sources may describe non-human states as consisting of several types of Buddhas, disciples of Buddha, "and then heavenly beings (superhuman [angels?]), human beings, Asura (fighting spirits), beasts, Preta (hungry ghosts), and depraved men (hellish beings). Now, these ten realms may be viewed as unfixed, nonobjective worlds, as mental and spiritual states of mind. These states of mind are created by men's thoughts, actions, and words. In other words, psychological states," from "On Reincarnation," by Takashi Tsuji, http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm. These states are also commonly called the "six realms" of "heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell." from "Buddhist View on Death and Rebirth," by Thich NguyenTang, http://bit.ly/1BfzKCV

10 "Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in 8 Weeks," 1-28-11, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110121144007.htm

11 The Washington Post, "Meditation and mindfulness may give your brain a boost," Carolyn Butler, 2-14-11, http://wapo.st/13Frssx; study reported at http://1.usa.gov/1tvhq9U

12 The Huffington Post, "Mindfulness in the Corporate World: How Businesses Are Incorporating the Eastern Practice," 8-29-12, updated 1-7-13, http://huff.to/1f21Og6; The Wall Street Journal, "Business Skills and Buddhist Mindfulness," Beth Gardiner 4-3-12, http://on.wsj.com/1zLwXRR

13 Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, "It's All In Your Mind," Lynne Ticknor, October, 2011, http://bit.ly/1xtEbt6

14 "Mindfulness With Children," Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D., 10-3-11, http://bit.ly/1ECB1JL

15 "It’s All in Your Mind."

16 Ibid.

17 "About Scholastic," http://bit.ly/1y2aJgH
 

 

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