Mindfulness Meditation: What’s the Buzz?

Meditation

A Buddhist form of meditation called “mindfulness meditation” has taken the mental health field by storm. It has produced many well-documented positive effects and has been basically touted as a panacea for most psychological ills. In terms of popularity and buzz, mindfulness is to mental health what organic coconut water is to physical health—a somewhat good thing promoted as a cure-all. Some think, “What’s the harm? It has documented positive effects, and at the very least it’s harmless.”

But is it? Relatively little has been said about its adverse effects, but good science and responsible living demand that we examine the whole picture. Fortunately, a study has now emerged that inserts one dissonant note into the otherwise unison chorus of praise for mindfulness meditation.

Definition of Mindfulness

Before quoting the study, let me define mindfulness and mindfulness meditation:

Mindfulness is the practice of self-awareness, of being “in the moment” rather than letting the thoughts take us elsewhere. When we are mindful, we observe our thoughts and feelings in a detached, non-judgmental way.

Mindfulness meditation involves breathing and relaxation, while clearing the mind of cluttered thoughts and focusing on the breath. It induces a trance-like state that often brings at least temporary relief from suffering.

“Mindfulness” was translated from the Sanskrit word smrti, which means “to remember” and refers to remembering the dhammas, or teachings of Buddhism. The student of smrti uses this form of meditation to detach from this world and enter “the stream” which leads to Nirvana, a state of freedom from desire and its consequence, suffering. One doesn’t need to dig very deep to discover error here because Buddhism, like all world religions except the biblical Christianity, crafts an elaborate method of salvation through self-effort.

As Buddhist mindfulness has become a mainstream practice used in clinical and therapeutic settings, it has lost its religious overtones while retaining its core purpose of detachment from reality, in particular suffering.

Pros and Cons of Detachment

And who wouldn’t want to detach from the difficult aspects of life? All have diversions that put a distance between ourselves and our suffering for at least a short space of time. But apparently detachment works like any other good thing—some helps, but too much can harm. Even water taken in sufficient quantities is a poison.

The study, published in January in The Journal of Counseling and Development, says:

“Adverse effects were reported in three major domains: intrapersonal (e.g., increased negativity, disorientation, addiction to meditation, boredom, pain), interpersonal (e.g., family conflicts, more judgmental), and societal effects (e.g., increased alienation, discomfort with the real world). It is interesting to note that respondents with the longest meditation practice history reported the highest rate of adverse effects at each time point.”[i]

Contrasting Buddhist and Biblical Meditation

 Is there a type of meditation that provides the benefits of mindfulness meditation without the adverse effects cited in this study such as negativity, boredom and alienation? I think so. It’s meditating on the Word of God. “Oh, how I love your law!” David exclaimed, “It is my meditation all the day,” (Ps. 119:97). Let’s compare and contrast these two approaches:

Rather than emptying the mind, biblical meditation fills the mind with spiritual truth. “You should keep your mind filled with the precious promises of God,” Ellen White counseled us, “As Christians we do not make half enough of the promises, for God will never fail in any good thing which he has promised. We should take these promises singly, view them critically in all their richness, meditate upon them until the soul is burdened with their greatness, and delighted with their strength and power.” [ii] Notice she is not recommending a Bible study that jumps from line to line here, but rather a focusing on one point at a time, taking the promises “singly.” In this way we receive the benefit of quieting and focusing the mind without the risk of emptying the mind.

Rather than detach us from all desire, biblical meditation refines and redirects our desires. “A new heart also will I give you,” God promises, “And a new spirit will I put within you. And I will take away the stoney heart out of your flesh. And I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statues. And you will keep my judgments, and do them,” (Ezekiel 36:26 and 27).

Rather than merely detaching from my suffering, biblical meditation attaches me to Christ. God, the ultimate social being, created us in His image. We can’t experience fulfillment apart from relationship. Worldly meditation can lead to withdrawal from relationships, but biblical meditation will connect us to God and ultimately lead to healthier relationships with people.

Through a walk with Jesus we enjoy the positive aspects of mindfulness without the negative aspects. Through meditating upon His Word, we look toward a better world where suffering will end for once and for all.

[i] Hanley, et. al, “Mind the Gap: Are Conclusions about Mindfulness Entirely Conclusive?” Journal of Counseling & Development, January 2016, Volume 94

[ii] ST APR.14,1890

14 thoughts on “Mindfulness Meditation: What’s the Buzz?

  1. Nancy Vyhmeister

    Very clear and appropriate to the times we live in! Thank you so much!

  2. Susan Harboldt

    Appreciate these thoughts. I am reminded of the saying, “Don’t be so open minded your brains fall out.” Our God wants to fill us, not empty us. Yes, He wants to fill us with peace and purpose and empty us of selfish desire. He wants to give us the desire of our hearts, a reasoned recognition of Himself, . “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

  3. Diane

    I think there could be a correlation going on here that makes the research less conclusive. People who are suffering, detached or feeling alienated in life are more likely to seek out a practice like mindfulness meditation. I would need to see before and after data about those conditions. I do agree that mediation on God’s promises is connectional and beneficial for now and eternity. But here is another thing: Hebrews 11 about the heroes of biblical faith gives a list of the suffering, dispossessed and alienated ones who have made their mark on salvation history. Searching hearts who seek out mindfuless meditation are expressing a biblically-affirmed condition of life, but have not found the most effective cure, yet. And also, some detachment from the pain and reality of this life seems necessary to gain entrance into the reign of God and of Christ, the Holy Spirit helping. Thank you for this article which I will continue to think some more about. Shalom! ~DV

  4. debbie

    this is really good Jennifer……..thank you so much for the topic and more information about it and the bible better way……..peace from God to you dear one…….debbie

  5. Nancy

    Very timely…needed to understand this buzz word that everyone is mentioning. Thanks for the clarity of what true mindfulness means!

  6. Kimber

    I apologize
    in the area of spiritual abuse AND WORSE… sex abuse by clergy… meditating on scriptures (when they touch into verses used by an abuser) is the ONLY time scripture is harmful. AND HEARTBREAKING
    it is sad that people USE scripture to enact abuse.

    and I love this piece and intend to share it with others …. that meditation is NOT exclusively helpful.
    thank you

  7. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    You make a great point. Let’s not vilify suffering people who are doing the best they can with unspeakable pain.

  8. Leslie Caza

    This topic is popping up everywhere, even Harvard has resources for mindfulness! I recently took a course on Coursera on happiness. It was actually a delightful class in many ways–until the end when it made a switch to eastern religion and mindfulness. As I remember it, Nirvana is actually what Adventists would call the state of the dead–a place of no consciousness. If that is one’s view of the goal of life and eternity, then I suggest Jesus as a truly blessed hope! Imagine (and we should!) being with One who has always had your best interest at heart, who trains, instructs, listens, comforts, disciplines with hopes of growth, and who loves you and lets us love Him in return (oh the absolute goal of most relationships!) Meditate on these things! Your article is timely and beautiful. Thank you!

  9. Leslie Caza

    This is popping up everywhere, even Harvard has resources for mindfulness. I recently took a course on Coursera on happiness (hey Jennifer, you should teach a Coursera course!) which was actually quite good in many ways–until the end when it switched to eastern meditation. As I remember it, Nirvana is what Adventists would call the state of the dead (unconsciousness). If that is one’s view of the goal to be met, may I introduce Jesus as a goal exceeding abundantly above all the emptying of the mind! Imagine eternity with One who you can fully connect with, who understands, cares, perfectly guides and instructs, corrects with your best interest at heart, who will never leave or forsake you, who loves to see you smile and have perfect peace, and who will let you love and adore Him in return–now that is the goal of all relationships and the source of true joy! Eternal nothingness is reserved for the lost so why start it here and now when there is a Path that is the way, the Truth and the Life?

    I have visited Thailand a couple of times and have always been amazed by their open, shameless dedication to Buddha and the spirits. One one flight to Thailand I met a lovely Buddhist woman with whom I spent time stretching in the flight attendant’s galley. She made a comment to me about Buddhism being better than burning in hell. My brothers and sisters who know Jesus, let’s be open, shameless, and bold for Christ and seek to banish the myths and bring them something better.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for a timely and important message, and please do consider teaching on Coursera!

  10. Selma Jacobs

    Thank you Jennifer for this very informative article.

    I got into meditation quite innocently at a gym the first time. It was after a yoga class. The teacher did a guided meditation for the ending of the class. I fell into a deep sleep so fast during the approximate time of a 5-10 minute meditation that I awoke and sat right up on my mat when I heard the whole class saying OM three times to end the yoga class. If I remember correctly I was told I was snoring. Another time there I felt when I was lying there listening to the yoga teacher read the guided meditation that I was floating a few inches above my mat. It was as if I was hypnotized. I’ve also done meditation in a group sitting in a circle on chairs. All the time I was doing these meditations with different teachers and different places I felt it was wrong.I know it was the Holy Spirit convincing me. I knew the teacher was a yoga teacher and more such as into channeling, psychic things, and other things. The other teachers weren’t yoga teachers but probably the other things I’ve mentioned.

    When you empty the mind Satan will enter in. There’s a controversy going on between good and evil. I started studying the Bible in a group Bible study and realized instead of emptying the mind I should be filling it with God’s promises. I feel so much better with meditating on God’s word. I’ve tried both. God’s way is always the best way. You can trust God!

    I’m definitely going to send your article to my friend who is into all this meditation stuff.

  11. linden

    I have noticed the mindfulness buzz. It is everywhere. And it makes sense to a point. I am so glad you are pointing out the ramifications and alternatives. The solutions of heaven are vastly superior to the imitations of the old serpent.
    Not until we learn to “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” will we consistently avoid the pitfalls of fruitless counterfeits.

  12. Karen

    Thank you for sharing. It’s helpful to know what’s behind cliche terms. Thank you for focusing on scripture as our connection with the ultimately relational Person in the universe. What a blessing!

  13. Fran Gourdet

    I just couldn’t discern what I liked and disliked about meditation, what about it to promote and what not to. This post clarified that for me. As I’ve become more aware of my self, the world around me, and how I interact with it daily, I see the benefits of meditation, but wondered why others who meditated didn’t appear to achieve the benefits I have. Should’ve been obvious: the difference is Christ and really allowing enough of Him — all of Him — into our hearts.

    Thanks for making the distinction very clear. Christ-centered meditation will be my definition.

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