In defense of mindfulness

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A student in Madonna lounge takes time for reading and reflection. Photo by Sam Curran.

Unless last week’s “Core Decorum: Mindfulness,” was an experiment in satire, I respectfully disagree with its author. While mindfulness may indeed be sourced from pagan religions, I would counter that many of our Core texts here at the University of Dallas are likewise founded on pagan thought — “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” the “Aeneid” and “Plato’s Republic,” to name a few. Correlation does not imply causation, nor does mindfulness’ non-Christian heritage mean that it presents non-Christian values.

Mindfulness itself is defined by Psychology Today as “a state of active, open attention on the present.” A form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness can be used to “identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them,” according to Psychology Today.

In daily life, this process goes something like this: “My brain is presenting me with overly negative, harmful thoughts about myself, others or my particular situation. Not only that, but these thoughts are untrue and unhealthy. What can I do, in this moment, with the resources that I have, to fight them and stabilize my thinking?”  It’s a simple but clinching trick.
It must be noted that mindfulness does not necessarily exclude the presence of God, nor does it encourage a simple casting off of the difficulties at hand. The technique itself does not disregard suffering, but rather grants the user clear eyes to understand this suffering and, moreover, find meaning in it.

As Catholics, this sense of meaning stems from our faith in God. It is through our pain that we are most united with our Savior. Oscar Wilde put it well when he wrote in his “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”
From a more personal perspective, I myself utilize mindfulness. Mental illness runs in my family, and has been a painful part of my own life for several years now. I don’t exaggerate when I say that it has, at times, absolutely eviscerated my wellbeing. Mindfulness, though, has been a valuable tool during such trials.

I was first introduced to the concept at the age of 16 by my therapist at the time. An old Italian woman, Rosalie was a devout Catholic, just as I am. She stressed the importance of using CBT methods like mindfulness in my struggle against clinical depression and anxiety. I wouldn’t be defending the technique if I thought it was ineffective or heretical.

If you, a friend, or a loved one are struggling with mental illness, do not hesitate to get help. Your struggles are valid and important, and you are deserving of aid. Most importantly, you are loved. Do not let your fears tell you otherwise.

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