Mindfulness goes to Kindergarten

One of the more worrisome trends in our public schools is the Eastern mystical practices seeping into the classroom under the guise of stress management. Yoga, meditation and something called “Mindfulness” are  all now being taught to children as young as five. One of the most experienced researchers we know in this area is Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age (CANA), and she has graciously allowed us to publish her new article on our blog:

Mindfulness goes to Kindergarten

By Marcia Montenegro, CANA

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist and author of “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and other bestsellers

“Be a lamp unto yourself.” — Reputed to be the last words of Gautama Buddha

An article from Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine (October 2011) was given to children in a public school kindergarten class in Northern Virginia to take home to their parents. The article, “It’s All In Your Mind,” by Lynne Ticknor, promotes mindfulness, a Buddhist concept and meditation practice, along with a brief interview of Goldie Hawn and her Eastern-based Mind-Up program for schools. This article is only one of many that have been written documenting and promoting the latest invasion of Eastern spirituality in our schools.

THE RELIGION OF MINDFULNESS

The article refers to mindfulness as “based in the philosophy of Buddhism” and quickly adds, “But it’s not religion” and “there are no spiritual overtones.” However, the very concept and practice of mindfulness is religious. Mindfulness is the seventh step in the Buddhist Noble Eight-fold Path. Its increasing visibility and acceptance in the West is largely due to its promotion by Buddhist adherents, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Zen Buddhist who has heavily influenced the health community, and by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and bestselling author.

Buddhism is a world-denying religion. It teaches that reality as we see and experience it is not, in fact, reality.** We think it is only because we identify with our body, feelings, thoughts, sensations, and reactions as a result of having been born into this world. There is no self (no-self is called anatman or anatta); the concept of self is a result of these false identifications with the world. Buddhist teaches that suffering is caused by desire. Birth in this world, along with our physical and mental processes, feed desire, thus continuing the cycle of desire and suffering through continual rebirth (samsara).

The only way to stop this cycle and be free of samsara – which is the goal of Buddhist practice – is to detach from desire. One of the chief methods to cultivate detachment is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness involves altering one’s thinking and outlook via Buddhist mindfulness meditation practice by detaching from mind and self through nonjudgmental observation. This includes the commonly heard maxim, “Be in the present,” since the goal includes detaching from past and future.

Practicing mindfulness supposedly prepares one for a breakthrough in perception, an awakening to reality, which is formlessness (sunyata, usually translated as “emptiness”). Mindfulness is particularly emphasized in Zen Buddhism and, aside from TM (Transcendental Meditation), is the Eastern practice that has most deeply penetrated the West.

Deutsch: Yin Yang

Although presented as spiritually neutral, the origins and goals of mindfulness belie that stance. Many are not aware that the true goal of Buddhism, nirvana, is not some kind of Buddhist heaven, but is actually the state one reaches when one has shed all attachments and illusions, thus freeing oneself from desire and rebirth. Nirvana means “to extinguish” and is the state of cessation of desire and illusion, and therefore of suffering. What is this state like? Buddhism offers no clear answer.

Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, has been teaching mindfulness and promoting it in inner city schools through her foundation, Inner Kids Foundation. In an interview, Greenland said this about the link of mindfulness to Buddhism:

“The Buddhist foundations/applications of the secular mindfulness work can be a great strength rather than an Achilles heel if reframed as a well-established, evidence based training protocol shown to reduce stress, improve immune function, develop executive function and attention with measurable results when it comes to changes not just in the health and wellness of the individual but also in the likelihood of an individual who has undergone that training in engaging in social, compassionate action.” (http://urbanmindfulness.org/2011/10/mindfulness-with-children-an-interview-with-susan-kaiser-greenland/).

She acknowledges that Buddhism is the foundation of mindfulness, but implies that if mindfulness can be “reframed” using terms related to mental health and stress reduction, then the messy religion issue can be circumvented.

THE BREATHING

The article states that children are taught to focus on their breathing, “an age-old exercise in finding calm and balance – or their ‘center.’”  One photograph shows a mother and child sitting in lotus position with eyes closed.  Another shows two young children (about age 6) sitting side-by-side in a lotus position with eyes closed. Clearly, there is more than just breathing going on. The breathing technique is part and parcel of the mindfulness meditation.

Mindful meditation involves breathing a certain way, but it is also a way to transcend thinking. Focusing on slow breathing is meant to transcend conceptual thinking. Breathing in this way brings one into an altered state where critical thinking and judgment are suspended. In Buddhism, such thinking interferes with spiritual insight.

Buddhism absorbed much from Taoism, which sprang from early Chinese shamanistic assumption of a universal force, chi, that infuses the world. In fact, Zen Buddhism is a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism which came from China and was called Chan (called Zen in Japan). Controlling breath was part of controlling and balancing chi, thus achieving health and longevity (in Taoist thinking). This idea of the breath as centering is very similar to the Taoist teaching that one must base one’s self in the flow of chi and thus balance the two forces of yin and yang.

THE EDUCATION

color version of A Yin-Yang-Yuan Symbol - Tria...

Even if the children are not doing a full-on mindfulness meditation (which would be difficult for most children), they are being introduced to it, taught how to do it, and told that it is the way to deal with their feelings and “intense emotions.” Being told that this is how to deal with anger or fear may also give the subtle message that emotions are a bad thing.

While it’s true that taking a few deep breaths when upset may calm one down, mindfulness goes way beyond that. Mindfulness as taught in schools is communicating to a child that he should always be calm, always clear-headed, always in control. This certainly could convey a negative message to more emotional children, and to children with various psychological, neurological, and emotional problems, as well as making them self-conscious about their feelings.

We have a right to ask: Is this not a type of therapy being foisted on children without parental consent? Are children, especially in the lower grades, able to handle such information? Should they be worried about their emotions? At the very least, using mindfulness should be a decision for a parent, not for the school or educators.

THE STUDIES

The article cites “studies” that mindfulness has done amazing things, such as improving memory, boosting the immune system, and has rendered child practitioners more optimistic, socially adept, compassionate, and less judgmental of themselves. Really?

Whenever we see such bold claims based on studies with no further information, we should ask: Who did these studies? How were they done? How big were the studies and over what period of time were they done? Have the results been published in professional peer-reviewed journals? If these studies were done by mindfulness-based or friendly organizations, then there is no scientific credibility.

Also, there is no way to prove that anything “boosts the immune system” since the immune system is too complex and involves many systems of the body. “Boosting the immune system” is the common claim of many fraudulent health products***

Moreover, how would one measure if a child is more optimistic or compassionate? Is this not a subjective assessment? What standards are being used for this type of measurement? In short, this reference to studies should be questioned since no scientific references or data is given, and the contentions are unreasonably overstated.

THE HYPE

Some educators are using visualization, meditation CDs and an iPad or iPhone app called BellyBio, “that helps regulate breathing rhythms.” Guided visualization is a form of hypnosis, so this should cause alarm, if indeed this form of visualization is being used.

Most meditation CDs also use forms of hypnosis; that is the nature of this type of meditation. And do parents really want teachers trying to “regulate breathing rhythms” in their children?

Mindfulness is now being marketed as aggressively as yoga has been. The word “compassion” is being joined with the term “mindfulness” (one example is a book recommended at the end of the article, Mindfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace by Denise Roy). Buddhist teachers make frequent use of the word “compassion” (this is very common with the Dalai Lama) but the problem is that non-Buddhists do not know all the implications of this term.

Compassion in Buddhism is not simply having empathy or care for people. Compassion includes the Buddhist view that all non-human beings (called “sentient beings”) are in need of rebirth as humans, because only humans can attain enlightenment. Since rebirth can bring a human into a non-human state, the Buddhist must spread Buddhist teachings and work at his own enlightenment in order to help advance Buddhist truths so that all can eventually be liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In Buddhism, Buddhist enlightenment is the only way for such liberation. Buddhism may give lip service to an embrace of all religions, but Buddhism teaches that only the Buddhist path can liberate.

Compassion, therefore, is a religious term, not a secular one, when used in the context of mindfulness.

THE COMMERCIALIZATION

Scholastic is the parent company of MindUP, the program started by actress Goldie Hawn, a practicing Buddhist. Scholastic, as many know, is a purveyor of many materials and programs in public schools. It is a global enterprise, creating and distributing “educational and entertaining materials and products for use in school and at home, including children’s books, magazines, technology-based products, teacher materials, television programming, feature film, videos and toys. Scholastic distributes its products and services through a variety of channels, including proprietary school-based book clubs, school-based book fairs, retail stores, schools, libraries and television networks; and Scholastic.com” (http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/peoplehistory.htm).

The advocacy of mindfulness by a corporate giant such as Scholastic is a prime example of how Eastern beliefs are being endorsed and disseminated in the culture. The same thing has been happening with Yoga, which is being offered in the workplace by corporations as well as by government agencies (along with the promotion of such practices as Feng Shui, Tai Chi, and many forms of New Age alternative healing).

Children are the most vulnerable and are totally unable to critique or assess such ideas; for that reason, they make the best targets.

Parents need to monitor and mind carefully what is going on in their child’s classroom. They need to ask questions about all activities. Parents can talk to the teacher or principal and ask to opt their child out based on religious views. Even if the school denies that mindfulness is religious, the parent can state that it conflicts with his or her faith. There is much data online that would help make a parent’s case that mindfulness is religious.

Notes

* The writer of this article was involved for about 14 years in various forms of Eastern meditation practices, particularly Zen.

**“Developing wisdom is a process of bringing our minds into accordance with the way things really are. Through this process we gradually remove the incorrect perceptions of reality we have had since the beginningless time.” (The Dalai Lama, An Open Heart [Boston/New York/London: Little, Brown and Company, 2001], page 86).

***On boosting the immune system:

“The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function . . . < . . .> . . . researchers are still trying to understand how the immune system works and how to interpret measurements of immune function.” http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/how-to-boost-your-immune-system.htm

“So when something allegedly boosts the immune system, I have to ask what part. How? What is it strengthening/boosting/supporting? Antibodies? Complement? White cells? Are the results from test tubes (often meaningless), animal studies or human studies? And if in human studies, what was the study population. Are the results even meaningful? Or small, barely statistically significant, outcomes in poorly done studies? The answer, as we shall see, is usually nothing.” http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/boost-your-immune-system/

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16 Responses to Mindfulness goes to Kindergarten

  1. Joanie says:

    Quick question re:today's topic-"Mindfulness goes to Kindergarten". Any connection to a program being used currently in public schools, "Second Step: Skills for Social and Academic Success"? One does not want to see something sinister in every new thing in education, but this involves self-talk, managing stress, "belly-breathing…any concerns? By the way, this comes from the 2011 Committee for Children. Thanks for any info you may have!

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    • Marcia says:

      Joanie, I found a website but it looks like you have to purchase materials to get the info. I do seems some things of concern here about "emotion management" which may involve some sort of meditative technique. There may be other similar techniques for focusing and other things mentioned here. Here is a list of the topics that are taught: http://www.cfchildren.org/media/el/pdfs/SSELP_at_

      There are too many links here to look at – would probably take several hours. They have links that give sample lessons for each grade level.

      This is why I try to inform people of what to look for, rather than just listing programs. It's impossible for me to find all the programs that push these kinds of things. I try to know about the big ones, like Mind-Up, but that's all I can do. I also have to watch several other areas in the New Age and occult as well doing my ministry. Research is just a part of what I do and I am just one person.

      Still, Joanie, I'm glad you asked about this because now I know about Second Step and to watch out for it.

      The thing is, these programs get in the schools because parents don't know about them and don't ask. Especially if you have a child in K-grade 5 or 6, you need to ask for specific information on all the programs and activities. They may put meditation type things under phys ed or something that sounds innocuous, and the names used for these activities may sound okay. Ask about ALL of them! I know that in gym classes for years in middle and high schools, they have used guided visualization to "relax" the kids. I don't know what word they use, but I'm sure most parents don't know about this. Or sometimes they do but are not alarmed. I've been told over and over by teens about stuff in their schools like this.

      More links: http://www.cfchildren.org/programs/ssp/early-learhttp://www.cfchildren.org/programs/ssp/kindergart

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  2. Marcia says:

    There are too many programs out there. I would need a link or something to go on to answer this – sorry! If it using a breathing technique, I would see that as a red flag for sure. There are other programs in the schools that are not Mindfulness. For example, TM (transcendental meditation) is in some schools in the UK and, I believe, in some charter schools here. David Lynch, the filmmaker, has a foundation pushing TM into schools.

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  3. Matthew LeMay says:

    Let's start by setting your facts straight: Mindfulness and Meditation are practiced in Christianity and have been since its inception.

    From the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org) website:

    "Orthodox Christianity has a rich tradition of being mindful. Orthodox Christianity has a rich tradition of meditation, of fasting, of praying, of giving alms." The Orthodox tradition of meditation also uses special posture and breathing rituals, accompanied by the repetition of a short prayer.

    "Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion. Both in Eastern and Western Christianity meditation is the middle level in a broad three-stage characterization of prayer: it involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer, but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplative prayer."

    Contemplative prayer follows meditation, and involves resting in the open, spacious gaze of faith toward God, beyond words, images and thoughts. It is also called Christian Contemplation or "Theoria" in Greek. As a legitimate, esoteric aspect of mainstream Christianity, it is divided into several levels of depth. For more information on this practice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_contemplat

    For more information on Orthodox Christian meditation, called Hesychasm, follow this link: H ehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm

    Hesychasm is "the practice of inner prayer, aiming at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and language", a sense in which the term is found in Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662), and Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)."

    Hesychastic practice involves acquiring an inner focus and blocking of the physical senses, to engage in mental ascesis. "While he maintains his practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Hesychast cultivates watchful attention (Gr. nepsis). Sobriety contributes to this mental askesis described above that rejects tempting thoughts; it puts a great emphasis on focus and attention. The Hesychast is to pay extreme attention to the consciousness of his inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his mind wander in any way at all." (wikipedia)

    Now we have clearly established that there is such a thing as Christian meditation (Gr: Theoria) or Christian "mindfulness" practice (Gr: Nepsis), and that such practice has even involved specific postures and breathing patterns. Now let us look at the secular teaching of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which involves simply the attention to one's breath and inner mental state, but without any religious overtones.

    First, we need to know that Jon Kabbat Zin is not merely someone "influenced by" the health community as Montenegro has said, he is a professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Massachusettes. He also holds a PhD in molecular biology from MIT, where he studied under Salvador Luria, Nobel Laureate in medicine. MIT and the University of Massacusettes are among the most rigorous scientific institutions in the world. MBSR is the result of generations of work in clinical medicine and psychology.

    His MBSR is not religiously oriented in any way, and the practice of mindfulness is not "inherently religious." I have clearly illustrated that the term "mindfulness" is employed in a distinctly different context in Buddhist philsophy than in MBSR. It doesn't even refer to meditation in Buddhism, but rather to "mindfulness" of one's moral choices. MBSR "mindfulness" refers to "bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis." Some have confused these two distinct uses of the word mindfulness. Respected Buddhist scholar B. Allan Wallace has made it very clear that "mindfulness" in modern psychological practice and "mindfulness" in Buddhism refer to very different things.

    Montenegro: "This [ie., Buddhist teaching] includes the commonly heard maxim, “Be in the present,” since the goal includes detaching from past and future."

    Buddhist teachings and meditation are not about "being in the present." That is just wrong and Montenegro is employing her characteristic tactic of lumping a wide variety of worldviews and practices together without any basis for it. "Being in the present" is more a characterstic of Western New Age (Eckhart Tolle, etc) thought than of Buddhism, but even so, she provides no reason why this is a harmful doctrine. Actually, "be in the present" is just common sense, since it is where you are anyway.

    Montenegro: "Although presented as spiritually neutral, the origins and goals of mindfulness belie that stance. Many are not aware that the true goal of Buddhism, nirvana, is not some kind of Buddhist heaven, but is actually the state one reaches when one has shed all attachments and illusions, thus freeing oneself from desire and rebirth. Nirvana means “to extinguish” and is the state of cessation of desire and illusion, and therefore of suffering. What is this state like? Buddhism offers no clear answer."

    Achieving Nirvana may indeed be one Buddhist goal, but you have characterized it incorrectly: Nirvana is the "blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion." However, most Buddhists (ie. Mahayana Buddhists) do not aim to extinguish desire all together, but to transmute it from personal greed into Universal Love (Metta, or Agape). Hatred is transformed into Compassion, and delusion becomes Wisdom. Many Buddhists disagree with the idea that Nirvana is the final goal, or that it represents "a cessation of rebirth." To Pureland Buddhists, the goal of the path is to go to Heaven after death. For others, the goal is to attain Enlightenment (Bodhi), which involves union with the Adi-Buddha (God). The similarity of this latter doctrine to the Orthodox Christian Doctrine of Theosis are noteworthy, but beyond the scope of this discussion.

    Furthermore, it is just absurd to say that Buddhism "offers no clear answer" about what Nirvana is like. Montenegro claims to have studied and practiced just about every non-Christian doctrine under the sun, but she has clearly never studied genuine Buddhism, or never came to understand it, since if she had she would be aware that Buddhist texts and traditions are replete with descriptions of Nirvana. Who on Earth would strive so diligently to attain something they didn't even know anything about? That's absurd!

    But lets not forget that this all really has nothing to do with modern psychological and medical mindfulness practice, where the goal is physical and mental health and well-being.

    Montenegro: "She [Greenland] acknowledges that Buddhism is the foundation of mindfulness, but implies that if mindfulness can be “reframed” using terms related to mental health and stress reduction, then the messy religion issue can be circumvented."

    Whether Greenland or other mindfulness practitioners may have connections to Buddhism is irrelevant given the fact that there are numerous other practitioners that are not Buddhist. I have already debunked your idea that mindfulness is in some way inherently Buddhist, and shown that it is in fact just as Christian. But lets pretend for a moment that it was invented by Buddhist countries, but has now been secularized. Saying that Mindfulness is wrong or shouldn't be used by Christians because it was invented by Buddhists is like saying Buddhists shouldn't use lightbulbs because they were invented by a Christian. Mindfulness is a simple, secular psychological technology–it actually doesn't matter who "invented" it. Anyone who studies or practices it knows it is totally safe and very beneficial.

    Want to know what else was invented by people in Buddhist/Hindu nations? Pasta, paper, gunpowder, the compass, printing, mechanics, hydrolics, algebra and countless other mathematical principles such as Pi and the number zero, medicine and surgery, diamond mining, the fork, acupuncture, medical massage, automatic sliding doors, paper currency and negative numbers. Maybe Christians should not use those things either?

    "Mindful meditation involves breathing a certain way, but it is also a way to transcend thinking. Focusing on slow breathing is meant to transcend conceptual thinking."

    What's your point? Christian Contemplation (Theoria) involves all of these aspects, as I have demonstrated above. Christian meditation is 2000 years old and totally distinct from Buddhist meditation and MBSR, and it is about transcending conceptual thinking to unite with the Ultimate Truth of God. Hesychasm: "the practice of inner prayer, aiming at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and language", a sense in which the term is found in Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662), and Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)."

    "Breathing in this way brings one into an altered state where critical thinking and judgment are suspended. In Buddhism, such thinking interferes with spiritual insight." Already debunked this one. Please refer to my other post. Mindfulness neither produces an "altered state" nor brings one to a state where "anything can enter the mind" as you have said. Your accusation that it "suspends critical thinking and judgment" paints a picture of it weakening the mind, when in fact all the traditional literature and scientific research shows that meditators minds become MORE stable, strong, critical and insightful. So you are wrong again.

    "While it’s true that taking a few deep breaths when upset may calm one down, mindfulness goes way beyond that. Mindfulness as taught in schools is communicating to a child that he should always be calm, always clear-headed, always in control. This certainly could convey a negative message to more emotional children, and to children with various psychological, neurological, and emotional problems, as well as making them self-conscious about their feelings."

    This one takes the cake. First of all, what is wrong with being calm, clear-headed and in-control? Of course no one is say that we are all perfect! But isn't it a good goal to have to be more calm, clear-headed and in-control? Or would you prefer we train our children to be more rash, wild and violent? By the way, the psychological, neurological and emotional problems you mention can all be dramatically benefited by Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, so you are contradicting yourself again! The children with these problems have the most to gain from MBSR. Would you prefer we dope them up on addictive prescription drugs or help them work productively with their mind and emotions?

    The Jesus I know said "Blessed are the Meek, Blessed are the Pure in Heart, Blessed are the Peacemakers." It doesn't take a medical researcher to find a connection between these qualities and calmness, clarity and compassion. These are all essential Christian ethics.

    You have just made meditation out to be something that "suspends critical thinking and judgment" and (in your other article) lets "anything enter the mind," and now you are saying that it is wrong because it makes you "always in-control." Add self-contradiction to the list.

    "The article cites “studies” that mindfulness has done amazing things, such as improving memory, boosting the immune system, and has rendered child practitioners more optimistic, socially adept, compassionate, and less judgmental of themselves. Really?"

    Yes, really! Did you read any of the original, scientific literature on the topic? Apparently not!

    "Whenever we see such bold claims based on studies with no further information, we should ask: Who did these studies? How were they done? How big were the studies and over what period of time were they done? Have the results been published in professional peer-reviewed journals?"

    This is just manipulative journalism and is not scientific reasoning for dismissing MBSR. There is PLENTY of further information available, including the peer-reviewed, published work of highly respected scientists! Of course all scientific articles should be subject to rigorous critique, and studies of MBSR have been submitted to such critique. These studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals and all the other questions you say we should ask HAVE been ask by the peers who review the journals. Kabbat Zin didn't become a Professor Emeritus of Medicine at University of Massachusettes by publishing non-rigourous work. I am currently studying to earn my clinical doctorate in medicine, and my professors have conducted exactly this type of research as well. So the question should be: did you read and understand any of this research?

    "If these studies were done by mindfulness-based or friendly organizations, then there is no scientific credibility."

    Not true. If an organization has a vested interest in the results of research, that does not dismiss its scientific credibility, but it means the authors and reviewers must acknowledge the potential for bias. That bias can then be eliminated by other scientists repeating the study, again and again, as has been done with anything we can call a scientific fact. This is called the Scientific Method–maybe you should study it before commenting on scientific research.

    If research done by groups with vested interest was inherently without scientific value, then every drug ever invented by a pharmaceutical company, or every medical technique ever invented by a practicing physician would be inherently without credibility. And every piece of social- or morally-oriented research conducted by conservative Christian think-tanks would be inherently worthless because of bias. Also, no one would ever be able to pioneer ANYTHING, since all pioneers have a vested interest in the success of their findings or inventions. That is why scientific research must be replicated by others.

    "Also, there is no way to prove that anything “boosts the immune system” since the immune system is too complex and involves many systems of the body. “Boosting the immune system” is the common claim of many fraudulent health products"

    This is a lie and totally without scientific basis. Yes the immune system is very complex, as an oncologist in training of course I am well aware of that. However, there are numerous markers which can be used to moniter the strength and efficacy of the immune system. These markers are routinely used to monitor patients and study treatment-interventions in cancer, HIV, and other rheumatological, immunological, etc conditions. Just because you don't understand the immune system doesn't mean there aren't others out there who have a better grasp of it.

    The fact that some fraudulent health products claim to "boost the immune system" is not evidence that immunity can't be modulated. The problem is with the lay concept of "boosting." In fact, immunity is much more complex that being "high" or "low," so you have to work with actual, measurable changes in physiology, such as WBC count, NK cell activity, T-cell memory, gene and protein expression, or tumor-related immune sensitivity markers, etc. For instance, cancer cells find ways to evade the immune system, but certain medicines can re-sensitize cancer cells to the immune system by altering gene and protein expression, allowing cancer cells to be effectively "caught" by the immune system. Also, activation of certain areas of the brain is associated with improvement in various immune system markers, and decreased symptoms of many common diseases.

    The current research suggest that mindfulness practices are useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, disordered eating, and addiction, among other conditions. Mindfulness practice improves the immune system and alters activation symmetries in the prefrontal cortex, a change previously associated with an increase in positive affect and a faster recovery from a negative experience. See "Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation" by Davidson et al., available at http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/… Just one of many studies!

    "Guided visualization is a form of hypnosis, so this should cause alarm, if indeed this form of visualization is being used."
    Why? You give no basis for why hypnosis "should cause alarm." Not to mention that guided visualization and hypnosis are not necessarily the same thing anyway.

    Next you go on to talk about the dangers of compassion, and I'm not sure how much more absurd this could all get. Somehow you have managed to spin compassion as negative because it is a word that is also used by Buddhists in their own worldview. Are you really going to let the word compassion have an exclusively "Buddhist" meaning? Have you read ANY of Jesus's words or teachings? You use the word Buddhist or Buddhism 10 times in a single paragraph, and by the way your article hasn't mentioned ANYTHING about Jesus or why Jesus would be opposed to mindfulness and compassion being taught in schools.

    The Jesus I know said "Blessed are the Merciful." It doesn't take a genius to make the connection betwee Mercy and Compassion. Christians should rejoice that their children can now learn more about how to cultivate Mercy and Compassion in school!

    In conclusion: Montenegro's arguments against Mindfulness are nothing more than unsubstantiated opinion. She makes no theological, biblical, scientific or rational argument. Christian Meditation is an ancient, mainstream aspect of the Christian Tradition.

    Secular meditation in schools aims for health benefits, better school performance and increased empathy, emotional awareness and social intelligence among children. The reported benefits have been rigorously demonstrated by science and in no way contradict Christian teachings or practices.

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  4. Marcia says:

    Matthew, Thank you for your reply. I am not going to go point by point as I already made a case for many things you say you disagree with. There seem to be 2 main issues that you contend with: 1)That meditation is also Christian; and, 2)That mindfulness is of value.

    First of all, your claims for meditation in the church are not based on scripture but rather based on the traditions of the Orthodox Church. So that is another topic. Whatever form of meditation they may practice or have practiced in the past is still not evidence from scripture.

    Contemplation means to ponder or reflect. If that is what is meant by contemplation, then that is fine. Biblical meditation is meditation on the word of God, and the word "meditation" in scripture means to ponder, reflect, digest, sometimes to memorize. Iow, it is actively using the mind. Buddhist meditation is not actively using the mind but rather bypassing thoughts and thinking.

    I am aware of Hesychasm and do not find it biblical. You need to use scriptures if you want to support a type of meditation that is not using the mind to read and actively reflect on scripture.

    Many of the points in my article you merely state are not true, but but I backed them up in the article, and there is no further need to do so here.

    Yes, being in the present moment is from Buddhist teachings but it has implications and meaning beyond the way it is usually said in the West, as I pointed out. I am aware that New Agers like Tolle pounce on that term/idea and perhaps add New Age ideas to it; nevertheless, it is a basic idea in Zen Buddhism.

    I never said compassion is wrong. I said that the Buddhist meaning of it goes beyond what most Westerners realize and I explained that. Compassion usually is used in reference for the hope and working for the (Buddhist) enlightenment of all beings, including non-human sentient beings.

    Regarding Nirvana: How can one describe a state where the self no longer exists while one still has a self and a state in which there is no more attachment to illusion while one is still in attachment to this world? Even if there are texts that define it, most Buddhist writings I've read state that it is not able to be articulated with words. Please feel free to post from Buddhist sources descriptions of Nirvana. I think it would be enlightening (lol) for all of us.

    Yes, I realize that some studies show a benefit to MBSR, but benefits based on what worldview? That is the point of this article, the point being that such benefits need to be measured by God's word and the biblical worldview. A Christian is to look to Christ and to God's word for comfort and strength in daily struggles and worries (I am not speaking here of serious mental problems that need professional help), not to techniques that come from a religion that is totally incompatible with a Christian worldview and belief system.

    I believe I demonstrated the essential spiritual nature of mindfulness and its purpose and whether one thinks it is of value or not, imposing such a method or technique on children in schools is at the very least, bringing religion into schools.

    I will read what you wrote again and address anything I missed that I think should be addressed. Thank you for your thoughts.

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    • Matthew LeMay says:

      Marcia,

      What you don't realize is that the Scripture was compiled by the Orthodox Church Fathers to illustrate the Holy Tradition, not to define it. Hesychasm is a part of that Holy Tradition.

      You can't accept the Absolute Truth of the Scriptures while rejecting the Divine Inspiration of those who compiled them, choosing which to include. The Church Fathers wrote the definitive interpretations and commentaries that are the basis for every doctrine we take for granted as Christians. If you reject their Divine Inspiration, you are rejecting the Bible itself (which they compiled) and all conventional Christian Theology.

      This opens the door to any of the other early Christian Books that were not included (Gospel of Thomas, Gnostic Gospels, Thunder Mind, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc). Do you believe that those Books may be authentic and divinely inspired as well?

      Like

  5. Dave Mosher says:

    Amy and Mike, I'm writing a blog on mindfulness in public schools. It's a work in progress: http://davemosher.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/occult… The actual title now is: "Occult New Age-ish Buddhist “mindfulness” invading preschools and public grade schools nationwide"

    This ties in with my blog about Roma Downey's degree in Spiritual Psychology. I'm guessing many if not most "mindfulness therapists" graduated from the same school as Downey – the New Age-ish University of Santa Monica – with a degree in Spiritual Psychology.

    I'm amazed how few Christian discernment articles there are exposing mindfulness in preschools and grade schools. This, as opposed to the huge number of articles and books favoring this and instructing teachers how to teach it.

    Looks like we have our work cut out for us. I'm hoping to write a series of articles about mindfulness in preschools and public grade schools, similar to the format I used with my Roma Downey blogs.

    God bless you – Dave

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  6. bob says:

    Nepsis (mindfulness) is a Biblical practice. At Gethsemane Jesus asked his disciples to keep watch and pray with him so that they would not fall into temptation. Jesus also uses the metaphor of the lamp several times in relation to prayer and says "happy is the servant whose master finds him watching when he returns." This is not about verbal prayer; lamps have a very limited vocabulary. In the Bible Jesus does not spell out what Jesus means by the prayer of keeping watch. This was passed on in the oral tradition. In the early church there was no new testament. The new testament developed out of the oral tradition. So if the oral tradition was unreliable we would also have no basis for trusting our new testament documents. Both the Jews and the early Christian were reluctant to write down the most sacred aspects of faith. One of the early contemplative practices of the Jews was chanting God's holy name. Because this name was so sacred the Jews never wrote it down and that is why we do not know for sure how to pronounce God's name Yahweh. To get a greater expansion of what Jesus meant by the spiritual discipline of keeping watch we need to turn to the early church and desert fathers. If what the early church fathers have to say on prayer is completely wrong than the original apostles must have been very poor teachers. All of the various groups of the earliest Christians were in agreement on this: contemplative prayer and the practice of Nepsis were at the very heart of our faith.
    The reason there are similarities between Christian meditation and other religions is due to to how our brains and bodies work. These spiritual disciplines effect our brains in similar ways. This does not mean that all religions are teaching the same thing. They are not. But our brains and bodies work in similar ways. Christians believe that ultimately it is God who designed how our brains work. God created the positive neurotransmitters and hormones that are released by contemplative prayer and the practice of keeping watch. These neurotransmitters have a powerful positive impact on our psychological and physical health.
    Best wishes,
    Bob

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    • Dave Mosher says:

      Well, Bob, there's a lot you've said that I disagree with – starting with your very first statement: "Nepsis (mindfulness) is a Biblical practice."

      I found two especially relevant quotes in the Wikipedia article about Nepsis:

      1) "Parallels could likely be made between nepsis and Buddhist mindfulness, Islamic dhikr, and Jewish devekut."

      According to the above quote nepsis has parallels with Buddhist mindfulness – it is not identical.

      2) "As the Christian becomes purified, in time he reaches the stage of illumination. At this point, the contemplative life begins, and watchfulness takes on a whole other meaning. Ultimately, the goal of the Eastern Christian is called theosis, the "deification" of man. According to St. Athanasius and others, "God became man so man can become god."
      Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nepsis

      "God became man so man can become god"? Come on, Bob – does nepsis really sound to you like a biblically sound practice that born again Christians should be involved in? I don't think so…

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  7. bob says:

    Thanks for your response, Dave. I agree with you on point #1. Christian nepsis is not identical to either Buddhist Mindfulness or to Mindfulness as defined in Psychotherapy research. Nepsis is practiced in the context of the Christian faith. Buddhism has a different philosophical context. Mindfulness in psychotherapy research is limited to practice that is empirically supported, so it is different from both Buddhist mindfulness and from Christian nepsis.

    Various Christian groups have debated the meaning of deification. See for example the different positions on deification by Eastern Christians, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christ

    The article defines deification as “the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. It literally means to become more divine, more like God, and/or take upon a divine nature."
    The article cites several sections of the Bible that are relevant to this discussion.
    There is also the statement in 2 Peter 1:4 where he states that we will become partakers of a divine nature.
    One of the problems here is Christians often end up talking past each other because they use terms like “deification” differently. I'm really hoping you and I can avoid that.
    Lets return to a discussion on nepsis. Another relevant passage is 1 Peter 5:8 which states, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
    Jesus indicates nepsis is something related to but distinct from prayer and that it is related to self-control. So what do you think Jesus and Peter are talking about? What is the Biblical practice of nepsis?

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    • Dave Mosher says:

      Bob, interesting points all. I don't know enough about nepsis to comment much further (yet). I would like to do some more research, perusing Internet articles (and books hopefully) both for and against nepsis.

      Here I will comment on your statement, "What is the Biblical practice of nepsis?" From what I've read so far, the whole concept of nepsis seems unbiblical/extrablblical. It's like saying "what is the biblical practice of contemplative prayer?". It seems to me that, In the cases of both nepsis and contemplative prayer, they are unbiblical/extrablblical.

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  8. Bob says:

    I’m confused Dave. How can you maintain that nepsis is not Biblical when it is a word used in the Bible in the above examples? In Matthew 26: 41 Jesus states, “Keep watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The word translated “keep watch” is the Greek word "nepsis". The word “nepsis” is used in the Bible to refer to a practice that is related to prayer and reduces the risk of of falling into temptation. In the quote above in 1 Peter 5:8 also uses the word "nepsis." This “nepsis” does not literally refer to looking for demons because that would release the stress hormone cortisol, which would make self-control even harder. Cortisol makes it more likely that you would over react and lose your temper. Psychologists sometimes refer to this as the higher emotional self-control regions of the brain being hijacked by the lower and more primitive regions of the brain which are related to the fight or flight response. I believe this hijacking of brain functions is the equivalent of being “devoured by the devil,” in the quote in 1 Peter 5:8.
    So my question for you is what kind of practice were Jesus and the quote from 1 Peter referring to when they used the word “nepsis.”

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  9. Bob says:

    Dave,
    I should add to the above that if cortisol and the other stress related hormones remain in our bodies for an extended period of time they significantly compromise health.
    Research on mindfulness and on meditation shows these practices flush cortisol and other stress hormones out of the body. This improves health and reduces our vulnerability to our brains being hijacked by the fight or flight response.
    The Bible refers to nepsis but it does not provide a detailed description of this spiritual discipline. The desert fathers, especially Evagrius provide this missing information. Keeping watch over our thoughts creates a degree of detachment from them. This is the “sober mind” referred to in 1 Peter 5:8. Evagrius calls this mental detachment apathia and it helps us to not automatically equate our thinking with our identity. When we associate our thoughts with our identity we are much more likely to act on those thoughts. When we are under stress we have all kinds of automatic thoughts and feelings that can get us into trouble. If we act on these automatic thoughts we often end up running away or punching or attacking someone. Practicing nepsis helps create a degree of detachment and mental perspective. It gives us the ability to reflect our thoughts and the ability to choose to act on them or not.
    This mental detachment from thoughts is just one aspect of the spiritual discipline of nepsis. I intend to cover some more passages in the Bible that are related to nepsis and the research on mindfulness.
    l

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  10. Mark Waldman says:

    At the University of Pennyslvania, Andrew Newberg did brainscan studies of Franciscan nuns doing Centering Prayer. Not only is the practice similar to other religious contemplative meditations in Judaism and the east, the brain scans show similar patterns of positive neural stimulation, especially in the areas of moral reasoning, empathy, compassion, and kindness and generosity toward others, all key issues in the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament. I am a minister and I teach at Loyola Marymount University. Meditation is now taught by Jesuit and Catholic priests, Protestant, Evangelic and Episcopalian ministers at major university hospitals throughout the country. Clearly mainstream Christianity has no problem with mindfulness when it is stripped of it's Buddhist theology, and when you apply Christian meditation without it's theology, you can introduce it into the public school system. There are over 3000 studies documenting its benefits (see http://www.pubmed.gov).

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  11. Bob says:

    Glad you are joining this discussion Mark,

    I really enjoyed the book you wrote with Andrew, “How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist.” I recommend it to the folks from Standing up for Truth. It can help you think through the implications of how our brains are related to our experiences of God.

    Dave,
    Another Biblical phrase related to Nepsis that is used by both Orthodox and Syriac Christians is “guarding the heart.” We need some context to understand this phrase. The Biblical understanding of heart is different from our modern use of the word. The Biblical concept refers to the organ in our bodies that bumps blood. But modern people also use the word heart as a metaphor to refer to emotions in contrast to logical thinking. That dichotomy of logic versus emotional feelings is absent from the Biblical concept of heart. The Biblical concept of heart includes both logical thinking and emotions, but it also refers to a form of knowing that is underneath and deeper than both logical conceptual thinking and emotions. Biblical concept of heart includes nonverbal knowledge.
    The Bible indicates that our bodies are the temple of God’s imminent presence and the biological heart is the organ of spiritual perception. We see this in Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” Another example is Ephesians 1:18 which states, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”

    The story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus illustrates how knowledge of the heart is a form of spiritual perception that is nonverbal and non-conceptual. As the two disciples are walking with Jesus they don’t recognise him. Their verbal, conscious minds are unable to recognise Jesus, but at a deeper level their hearts are burning within them. Their hearts can see what their surface minds do not: the risen Lord.

    The phrase “guarding the heart” comes from the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible.
    Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Eastern Christians take this phrase literally to refer to focussing attention on the solar plexus region either on one’s breath or on the heart. Part of the reason this might sound foreign to you is due how strongly our Western culture has been influenced by a dualistic separation of the physical from the mental and spiritual. There was no dualistic separation of the physical and spiritual in the Biblical world. This is why the body was viewed as the temple of the Holy Spirit and the biological heart was literally believed to be the organ of spiritual perception. The burning heart is not just a metaphor; it is a common spiritual/physical experience for many people who practice nepsis and contemplative prayer.
    The word guarding is similar to the word nepsis: it refers to maintaining a state of vigilant attention. Paul also refers to this practice in Philippians 4: 7 where he states: “and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
    “Guarding the heart,” in the Middle East Biblical world view refers to sustained attention on the solar plexus region of the body. “Guarding the mind,” refers to the monitoring thoughts nepsis. It is interesting that Paul states it is, “the peace of God that transcends all understanding,” that enables us to guard our hearts and guard our minds. This fits well with the neurobiology of spiritual experience. Earlier in this same letter (Phillipeans 2:5) Paul tells us to put on the “mind of Christ” by imitating the self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ. Guarding the heart and guarding the mind That Paul is referring to results in a state of awareness that is empty of self. Anyone who has experienced this “kenosis” can tell you this is an experience of “peace that transcends all understanding.” This experience beneath and beyond the surface of the verbal conceptual mind. Research shows that mindfulness and meditation increase the flow of oxytocin, dopamine and other positive neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters make it easier to sustain attention and to enter into deeper relaxation. Paul was a keen observer of spiritual experience. Research in neurobiology supports Paul’s statement that “the peace that passes understanding enables us to guard the heart and guard the mind.”
    Let me know your thoughts on the above. What do you think Paul is talking about when he refers to guarding the heart and mind and how is it related to the peace that passes understanding?
    Best wishes,
    Bob

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