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Having been dogged by anxiety and depression all my life but now depression free for seven years, I have reason to be thankful to Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal for the development of secular mindfulness. But though I learnt mindfulness (appropriately in my view), in a secular therapeutic setting, my inner experience of it has been quite different. Through mindfulness I stumbled on the last piece of the jigsaw that led me out of depression – spiritual healing. In addition to being a valuable psychological tool, mindfulness became a way of deep healing and it is now the way I pray.
But sacred cows aren’t confined to religious beliefs and Laurence Freeman (The Tablet, 5 July) is correct in highlighting what can happen when there is a complete disconnect between awareness and action. I have sat in groups where everyone seemed to be on “my journey” and have felt the aridity and suffocation of its introspection. But it’s an experience that has not been confined to mindfulness groups alone.
Where I differ from Laurence Freeman is on what to do about it.
A number of years ago I was blessed to meet a priest who had embraced mindfulness in his own life and facilitated a mindfulness group where everyone was met “wherever they were at”, non-judgmentally and with deep acceptance. But it was held too, in the embracing awareness that “my journey” includes “our journey”.
Given that depression is predicted to be the number one health problem worldwide by 2030 and given that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is proving effective in reducing the relapse rates of depression, it is inevitable that the numbers of people who will start to practise mindfulness meditation will continue to increase.
At this stage we urgently need experienced spiritual guides to reach in and meet us at the point where mindfulness moves from being a purely therapeutic practice, to being a spiritual one too. But rather than retreating and preaching, could those of differing faiths not come together and provide safe mindful meditation spaces so that all may have the chance to experience that moment of revelation so eloquently expressed by the poet Mary Oliver:
“so this is how you swim inward,
So this is how you flow outward,
So this is how you pray.”
Perhaps priests need to “meet” rather than “preach”.
Barbara Whelan, Dublin