Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buddhism’s Mindfulness

When we don’t know the extent of our riches in Christ (Col. 2:1-4), several things happen. We fail to rejoice and make use of what we have, and we tend to pursue substitutes for what we think we lack. One example of this is our embrace of the Buddhist contemplative practice of mindfulness, through which painful, life-controlling feelings are observed without judging them. This form of contemplation enables us to distance ourselves from the grip of these feelings. Russ Harris writes in the Happiness Trap:

If you bring mindfulness to bear on negative feelings, they loose their impact. Just let them be there without struggling against them, and you’ll eventually feel less anxiety and depression.

There is some truth to this. Struggling against our feelings can be like struggling against quick-sand. The harder we fight, the quicker we sink. Our feelings can constitute such a threat that we either try to suppress them, rationalize them, or blame them on others. Each of these strategies subjects us to a painful internal struggle against our truth-revealing conscience, depriving us from any sense of peace. How much easier to simply accept the fact that we have some nasty feelings and go on with life!

However, acceptance of our feelings is more easily said than actually achieved. Feelings don’t just hurt; they preach sermons and make burning indictments. Guilt feelings tell us that we deserve judgment; while shame imposes a verdict of “unworthy” and “inadequate”—the very things we cannot accept about ourselves! Fear tells us that we are surrounded by threats.

For mindfulness to work, our feelings can’t simply be observed in a meditative state. We also must believe that their sermons carry no weight and have no reference to reality, that our guilt doesn’t indicate an actual indictment, but is no more than a pesky feeling which can be ignored and forgotten. However, this represents a flight from reality and a license to rationalize away all of our negative feelings.

In contrast to this, Christ gives us the resources to deal wisely and responsibly with our feelings. We examine ourselves in the light of our God-given feelings, and take appropriate action. We make ourselves mindful of the truths of Christ—that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive and to wash away the maiming effects of our sins and their corresponding emotional states (1 John 1:9). When we fear, we need not send the feeling away into the nether world of contemplation. We can face the reality of our fear and trust that He will protect us (Psalm 56:3). When we experience shame, we remind ourselves that it’s no longer about our unworthy selves but about Him (Luke 17:10; Gal. 2:20) and His Cross, which has put to death our very tangible debts, presenting their demanding claims through our emotions.

Shoppers are attracted to “one-stop-shopping.” If they can find everything they need in one place, they won’t have to go elsewhere. Likewise, we need to discover how His truths answer all of our needs in His timing. As we acquire this understanding, we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30) and can cease from our feverish quest for inferior products.

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