Myth of Mindfulness

By Cindy Koch

Deep breath. What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? Exhale. We slowly, calmly, intentionally explore every sensation rushing through our minds. Stop focusing on the past, look right in front of you. Stop anticipating the future, simply embrace the present – today. Mindfulness, being present, living in the now, is the popular practice of the moment in our crazy mixed up world. (In my local city, even kids are offered mindfulness periods in public school.) It’s possible I wouldn’t have ever noticed this funny little quirk in our current culture. But I’m hearing more about this trend that tries to comfort the tormented minds of our world. And I’m beginning to wonder if this is a silent assault on an ancient truth.

Because today, mindfulness has seeped out of the Buddhist Temples, passed through the meditation rooms, and diffused beyond the self-help books. It is inhaled in every exercise room across the country during a local yoga class. It is in the air, practiced at the modern, happy workplace. It is spoken by the loving voice of a friend’s advice and counsel. It’s even floating throughout the words of our popular Christian media. Be mindful. Be present. Live in the now.

And really, it’s not completely terrible. Self-reflection is a great quality that heightens that awareness of a situation. We can gather information about our surroundings that are helpful to move forward. Quietness allows us to think things through clearly. Slowing down prevents hasty actions that we may regret later. Yet while filling our lungs with a taste of this mindfulness, I stop mid-breath to ask the important question – so, where do I focus?

A “present” person would encourage me to focus on my feelings thoughts and emotions, right now. A “mindful” meditation would have me focus on training myself in ethical virtues. “Living in the now” would have me forget the past and forsake the future, for the experience of the moment. All at once, every thought, every scent, every sensation, every detail should sharply focus upon myself. This is when red flags violently shoot up through the seemingly serene landscape. The promise of mindfulness is that our own power of intense observation will save us from suffering. The hope of mindfulness is our internal gaze will make us righteous, happy people. The myth of mindfulness shackles our soul to depend deeply on our own ability to make things right.

While mindfulness is attractive, it’s just the same old battle with a Zen-chic groove. Can we create a better existence for ourselves and others? Or do we only offer filthy rags to a righteous Creator? Are we innately good and kind and gentle? Or are we completely lost and dead in our sin? Is our goal to free our own heart from sadness and suffering? Or has Someone Else declared us to be free?

So, where do I focus? An ancient truth still whispers from the mouth of God. Focus on the Son of Man who is lifted up – whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15) Focus on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Focus on the once-and-for-all sacrificed Lamb of the past. Focus on the everlasting perfection of your resurrection in the future. Focus on a Truth that lives and breathes outside of you. Focus on Christ alone.

Deep breath. What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? Exhale. You can still slowly, calmly, intentionally explore every sensation. But, focus on your baptism that assures you are a chosen child of God; don’t worry about the problems right in front of you. Anticipate the victorious feast to come in a taste of bread and wine, body and blood; don’t simply embrace this fleeting present. Mindfulness, being present, living in the now, may try to choke out your hope in our external eternal Word, who died and lives for you. But there is a better answer to comfort the tormented minds of our world. Focus on Jesus.