"Mindfulness" is such a part of what's offered in "CBT" therapy these days, (even by Catholics!) that it's become one of many reasons why I eschew all modern therapy.

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It’s true that mindfulness originated with Buddhism, but there’s nothing about following your breath which requires you to embrace a Buddhist worldview. Indeed, Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote a letter as head of the CDF to Bishops saying, “That does not mean that genuine practices of meditation which come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, cannot constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace, even in the midst of external pressures.”

For me, mindfulness has helped me to intensively cultivate the ability to notice when my attention has wandered and return it to the object of focus - a skill that’s proven invaluable in my personal prayer. I think the practice holds great promise provided it’s integrated into a Catholic worldview. Dr. Gregory Bottaro has done an excellent job showing how mindfulness complements Catholic spirituality - I highly recommend his book The Mindful Catholic. I’ve also written at length on my own page in a piece called “Despoiling the Hipsters.”

As for the dangers of mindfulness, I didn’t read the article you linked to because it’s behind a paywall. But here’s a tweet from the author of the study, who adamantly claims the article misrepresents her findings. https://twitter.com/roosvonk/status/1343840291145572352 Meanwhile there are many other studies which show that mindfulness leads to pro social behavior, along with numerous studies which seem to show that it leads to mental health benefits. Granted, it’s a complex and still largely uncharted area of study. But until there’s much more and better evidence one way or the other, I don’t think it’s a good practice to casually speculate that it leads to narcissism.

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Cardinal Ratzinger's letter actually warns greatly against the dangers of trying to fuse Christianity with Eastern practices:

" With the present diffusion of eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian." It certainly doesn't follow from his letter that eastern practices are unproblematic. Given the obvious risks of syncretism and the existence of numerous Christian alternatives, why even bother?

The Spanish bishops have also offered guidance on the increasingly popularity of mindfulness practices, saying: hat the “mindfulness” movement and other eastern meditation techniques cannot be considered a “properly Christian” practice of prayer. Furthermore:

“The reduction of prayer to meditation and the absence of a you as its end, turn meditation into a monologue that begins and ends in the subject itself,” the bishops said...

But techniques focused on the self “can hardly be compatible with Christian prayer, in which the most important thing is the divine You revealed in Christ,” the bishops said.'

The Spanish bishops' position is discussed further here (https://catholicherald.co.uk/zen-meditation-and-mindfulness-are-not-christian-prayer-spanish-bishops-warn/)

Your arguments could also be taken to justify the related Eastern practice of Yoga, for instance, which India's own bishops have warned is incompatible with Catholicism.

Yes, some evidence on mindfulness is mixed. Some people believe it helps anxiety, but the claims that it can be associated with narcissism are not dependent on a single study. A number of studies (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6474413/The-dark-mindfulness-Growing-evidence-therapy-harmful.html) over the years have suggested possible harm for a number of reasons that go beyond only narcissism. Why risk trading a decrease in anxiety (which may not even happen) for an increase in narcissism? Even if things are as uncertain as you suggest, why take the risk, given the uncertainty?

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Good afternoon Raymond,

I don’t consider mindfulness a substitute for prayer, nor am I fusing it with Christianity. Hence, I can wholeheartedly agree with the Spanish Bishops that mindfulness meditation isn’t prayer while still pursuing it as a non-prayer activity for the numerous benefits it has brought me - including in my spiritual life. This happens to be why I disagree with your claim that there are Christian alternatives to mindfulness. The ones you list are forms of contemplative prayer, and the objective of prayer is union with God. If someone uses prayer as a technique to quiet their mind and reduce stress, then it’s not clear to me that they’re even praying at all. At best they’ve confused recollection with prayer - something Ratzinger also strongly warns against (see paragraph 28). Prayer itself can foster recollection and result in a quiet mind and reduced stress. But that’s not the purpose of prayer, nor does it mean that prayer is the only legitimate means to those ends, which are not supernatural. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, there are other “suitable means,” -even ones originating from non Christian religions - “of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace…”

What about the dangers? Frankly, I don’t think there’s a big risk. Granted that this is a developing area of study, it’s misleading to call the current results ‘mixed.’ Even the sinisterly titled Daily Mail article only claims that 5% of people experience negative side effects. That number includes those who experience minor negative effects, meaning the percentage of severe side effects is even smaller. You wouldn’t say that a movie received mixed reviews if it had a 95% rating on RottenTomatoes. And from what I can tell, the overwhelming majority of those who’ve suffered severe negative side effects were already dealing with some serious form of mental illness or unprocessed trauma. Such people also struggle with Christian prayer. For example, any responsible spiritual director would tell them to avoid things like silent retreats or all night prayer vigils. Some people simply aren’t suited to intensive and prolonged solitary experiences. That doesn’t mean the rest of us need to steer clear.

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