Someone once asked St. Therese of LIsieux “What do you say to Jesus when you pray?” She replied, “I don’t say much of anything. I just love Him.”
Not long ago The New Yorker ran a profile—“The Higher Life”—of mindfulness guru Andy Puddicombe.
Puddicombe spent years in Buddhist monasteries and now markets a wildly popular “meditation” app called Headspace that bills itself as a “gym membership for the mind.” Arianna Huffington, the Seattle Seahawks, and Virgin Airlines are all on board.
After reading the piece, I searched Andy Puddicombe on Youtube. “Why Ten Minutes Each Day Can Change Your Day” was twenty minutes long. In the first thirty seconds, Puddicombe explained—without irony—that he was in a hurry, that he was getting married the next weekend, that he had to rush back to London that night, and that if people had questions afterward to keep them short.
As Thomas à Kempis observed in The Imitation of Christ. “The reason so few contemplative persons are found is that so few know how to separate themselves entirely from what is transitory and created.”
The Headspace mindfulness app is aiming for twenty million followers.
To slow down, to become more mindful, are lovely goals. Mindfulness, in its proper place, can help us focus our minds, to reduce worries and distractions about things we can’t control.
But when mindfulness moves into spirituality, the question becomes: Mindful of what? Without belief in a power beyond ourselves, we have no reference point but ourselves: our bodies, our progress, our excellence, our success, our money.
This is where Puddicombe crosses the line, because as a potential investor in Headspace explained, “It’s extremely compelling when a Buddhist monk walks in the door. It’s true to brand. It’s authentic.”
Ruth Burrows, a cloistered contemplative Carmelite in England, notes that we don’t initiate prayer; God does. That may be the simplest way to describe the fundamental difference between the kind of “contemplative program” Puddicombe is selling and the prayer of the follower of Christ.
For the follower of Christ there is no place to “get to,” no striving, no technique. The goal for the follower of Christ is not to relax; it’s to surrender.
The goal isn’t to achieve anything—not a “special state of consciousness,” and especially not some kind of prestige or status or notoriety as a holy person. The goal is to die.
After describing the 350 hours of guided lessons he provides in his Headspace app, Puddicombe says, “I liken [meditation] to driving a car. It’s helpful to have someone sit there with you first.” But as Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello observed: “Loneliness is not cured by human company. Loneliness is cured by contact with reality.”
All authentic spirituality is free, available to all, and impervious to “branding.” The Cross can’t be packaged, promoted, or marketed. It’s already every human being’s birthright. We can only prepare ourselves to want it, to see it.
Without belief in a power beyond ourselves, we have no reference point but ourselves: our bodies, our progress, our excellence, our success, our money.
That preparation is the very purpose of contemplation. Contemplation for the follower of Christ is a yes, on bended knee—not so we can make more money, but so we can better serve.
That requires a lot more than ten minutes a day. We order our lives to it. We come to pray without ceasing. Prayer and contemplation—contact with reality—become the beat of our hearts.
Headspace, itching for more visibility, aims for twenty million followers. The follower of Christ becomes ever more “invisible” (no matter how public a figure), ever more willing not to see the fruits of his or her labor, ever more willing to accept being tossed aside and forgotten.
Lizzie Widdicombe, author of “The Higher Life” article, explains that for centuries Buddhist meditation was reserved for spiritually elite monks. The world was so corrupt and enlightenment was so elusive a goal that most people couldn’t be expected to reach it in their lifetimes.
Compare that to the startling, ever-unfolding now of “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
In the late 1800’s, fearing the encroachment of Christianity, Buddhist monks began teaching laypeople their secrets. Though enlightenment remained beyond the reach of most, “insight” meditation became available to the masses.
Now, via mindfulness guru Andy Puddicombe, a streamlined version of enlightenment is available for ten minutes a day and a subscription ranging in price from $12.95 a month to a $419.95 “Forever” package.
“Smile More. Love Better. Sleep Better.” The ideal accompaniment to your cornflakes or commute.
Serious Buddhists are worried that mindfulness has become a “wonder-drug version of meditation… adaptable to any goal, from training marines to picking investments.”
Compare that to “As you have done to the least of these, so you have done unto me.” “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Feed my sheep.”
That the Way, the Truth, and the Life is accessible to all doesn’t mean that following Christ is easy.
Compare that to a relationship. A conversation. A story. An ongoing shared meal with a God who took on human flesh and pitched his tent among us so that everyone, no matter how uneducated, how sick, how outcast, could share in the feast.
That the Way, the Truth, and the Life is accessible to all, of course, doesn’t mean the Way is easy. Over and over again, Christ says those who inherit the earth will be the poorest, the most meek, the most child-like at heart. Getting there, or back there, is what’s hard.
The peace that passeth all understanding has little to do with the kind of “calm” Puddicombe is selling. The peace of Christ comes from laying down our lives for our friends while our own suffering rages unabated, while our disordered nervous systems often continue to run amok, while we are anxious unto death over the pain of the human family.
In the eyes of the world, that’s always been a crazy, extravagant, profligate, foolish waste.
From G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:
“Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike, there was one thing about them that always perplexed me; I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art. I do not mean in its technical style of representation, but in the things that it was manifestly meant to represent. No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint’s body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards.”
I, too, have a “meditation” app on my phone.
It’s called ibreviary.
©Copyright 2015, Heather King. All rights reserved.