THE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH MINDFULNESS IS UNDERSTOOD, WRITTEN ABOUT, AND PRACTICED
Kelly's reflections and our own dialogue highlighted that there are different ways in which mindfulness can be understood, written about, and practiced. In our conversations, we explored the concept of mindfulness in three ways: as a spiritual practice, as a natural process, and as a cultural process.
Mindfulness as a Spiritual Practice
As Kelly identified, there is a diversity of religious and spiritual understanding and writing on mindfulness that carry with them specific beliefs and values. In these religious and spiritual traditions, “contemplatives have studied the mind that observes phenomena and that does the investigating” (Wallace, 2008, p. xvii) for a long time. Like Kelly, we also acknowledged that mindfulness is not new in the contemplative traditions of the West. Contemplation in the West had its beginnings with the mystical brotherhoods of the eastern Mediterranean such as the Pythagoreans and the Essenes, ofwhich Jesus Christ was a member of the latter. For the Christian contemplatives, concentration of the mind on a single word was a pathway to union with God. However, we also recognized that contemplation is rare in Protestantism but is still practiced as extended prayer and meditation in orders of the Roman Catholic faith. In addition to these traditions, there is also evidence of a rich literature on mediative practices in the Sufi and Taoist traditions (Wallace, 2008).
Although there is a tendency to think of science as secular and divorced from religion and the spiritual, Wallace's (2008) description of the development of science shows its roots in Christian thought and its eventual replacement of religion
as the final authority on reality. Even so, scientific thinking never completely divested itself of ideas derived from Christian theology. They were too deeply embedded. As a consequence, the prevailing popular view of science in the West is based on the discoveries achieved by the scientific method, but infused with a hidden Christian view of nature. (p. 10)
The philosophy of scientific materialism is based on the principles of objectivism, metaphysical realism, the closure principle, universalism, and physical reductionism. This is an interpretation of science that is still followed by many scientists today (Wallace, 2008) and underpins the current scientific study and understandings of mindfulness. Clearly, from a “spiritual perspective,” mindfulness is not “value free,” but nor is that the case from an empirical or scientific view of mindfulness. However, this dominant view of reality when focused on the material is identified as secular in nature, separate from religion and value free.