Is Mindfulness a spiritual practice? Below is a transcript of the conversation presented by Brighton Mindfulness Centre, where Jon Wilde and Andy Darling are interviewed by Gerard Evans and discuss the question ‘Is mindfulness a spiritual practice?’. The full one-hour video can be accessed by clicking here for our main Mindfulness FAQ page. Other Mindfulness questions are answered in this and other videos on this site.
(This question is a follow-on from the previous discussion, ‘What is mindfulness?’)
Mindfulness and spirituality – is mindfulness a spiritual practice?
Gerard: Okay, on that note, that would seem a good point to move on to the next question which comes from Brian in London and he’s asking: is mindfulness a spiritual practice?
Jon: Good question Brian. It can be. Running mindfulness courses now, as I am, I’m struck often by just how different people’s expectations are. What they’re really bringing to the course. Many people come to a mindfulness course because they want to feel less stressed, because they want to be rid of their depression. They may want to be more creative in their work, whatever that work is. There’s all kinds of reasons.
Now and again there are people who are drawn to mindfulness because I think they’re ripe for some life-changing experience. They’re open to the idea that perhaps because the life that they’re living is no longer sustainable, they’re open for a massive change. And just as mindfulness is, I would argue, a great way of dealing with stress in one’s life and dealing with recurring depression, I think it’s equally adept at accommodating the need for someone’s life to take some massive kind of seismic shift in… I’m not fond of the word spiritual because I think it means…
Andy: What does it mean to you?
Jon: It means many different things to many different people. I think even amongst the three of us we could be here all day defining what spirituality really is.
Andy: I think the way it tends to be defined now is in two particular ways. One is being in opposition to materialistic. But then it also gets conflated with religious… religion and so on. And I think it’s interesting that all what have become the big, monotheistic religions tended to begin with what actually is quite a mindful, meditative sort of practice. You look at Sufism, with Islam. You look at the very early Christians. They were doing this sitting quietly, being present and so on. And I think that is where there’s a bit of an overlap. And then of course with all those religions the bureaucrats got in and they wanted things, they wanted the churches, they wanted the belongings and stuff and so forth. They wanted the material.
Jon: Yes, probably worth saying at this point that when mindfulness is taught these days, in the main it’s taught from a purely secular point of view. So you’re most likely to be taught mindfulness by somebody who during an eight-week course for example is not going to mention…
Andy: The B word.
Buddhism, God, Jesus and spiritual awakening
Jon: The B word, Buddhism… or refer to God or refer to Jesus or refer to spiritual awakening in any kind of a way. That’s simply the way it’s rolled out these days. But that’s not to say that if you’re spiritually inclined then mindfulness won’t do you a great deal of benefit, because it will hopefully teach you. You know, it will teach you to be still. It will teach you to connect with the world in a different way. It will help you to connect with yourself in a very different way.
Andy: And in fact we think of the word spiritual itself, the root of it being in spiro, the breath. The central component of mindfulness practice is mindfulness of breathing, following the breath. I simply think that can awaken all sorts of new thoughts, new senses, new experiences, that there’s more than what I thought there was. That to me, that’s a spiritual experience.
Mindfulness is spiritual if you want it to be
Gerard: So perhaps you could say mindfulness is spiritual if you want it to be, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t.
Jon: Absolutely right. The way it’s set out really, and was set up by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, was to be all-inclusive. So I think if you’re of a spiritual bent I don’t think you’re going to feel out of place on an eight-week course – and I think if you’ve got absolutely no interest in that life and you are simply there to relieve some stress in your life, that’s also going to be fine.
(The Mindfulness conversation continues with the next question: can you learn Mindfulness from a book?)