Spiritual Mindfulness Connects You to the Source

The word mindful dates to 14th century Old English where it meant “to take thought or care, heedful, thoughtful.” But like many English words, the meaning has changed over time. For example, Psychology Today (2021) defines mindfulness as a state of active, open attention to the present, one in which we observe our immediate thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental way. This meaning, while similar to the original, has its roots in Buddhism, being derived from the initial translation of the Pali word sati, which can mean “to bear in mind,” “to be aware,” or “to retain,” as in memory.

T.W. Rhys Davids first translated sati and various compound words from Pali to English in 1881, a work published in Volume 11 of Max Müller’s monumental collection, The Sacred Books of the East. As examples of how he interpreted the term, he translated sammā-sati, the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, as “right mindfulness, the watchful, active mind,” and sato sampajâno as “mindful and thoughtful.” (On the same topic, see New Spiritual Trends Are Not That New.)

Along with this subtle change of meaning over the centuries, being mindful became a deliberate practice, forming a part of meditation exercises. At first, it became popular because of its strong link to Buddhism, especially through the works of Thich Nhat Hanh (1975). But it soon gained a degree of legitimacy in medicine and psychology with the pioneering work of Herbert Benson and Miriam Klipper. Not long after, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who was a student of Hanh, conducted extensive studies on mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, where he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979.

Hanh introduced mindfulness as a traditional Buddhist meditation technique in which practitioners were encouraged to become aware of their breathing and to focus on what they are doing in the present moment, not allowing their thoughts to influence them in any way, nor to judge those thoughts. The purpose of the exercise is to become aware of thoughts and experiences in the present moment.

Hanh also emphasized that mindfulness should bring us to an awareness of the interconnectedness of the self with the world around us. He saw no separation between the self and its environment. In a very real sense, he was promoting the Buddhist (and Taoist) philosophy of oneness, of belonging to a universe—cosmic consciousness.

Hanh’s insight into our connectedness with the universe is an important realization. But the critical difference in the God experience is the added realization that the self remains intact. Rather than being an illusion, the self is a personal reality that makes a freewill choice to connect and harmonize with the universe. This cosmic self-realization is made possible by the presence of the Spirit within us—our personal God connector and the very source of God consciousness.

God consciousness is equivalent to the integration of the self with the universe. 196:3.35

– The Urantia Book

Benson and Kabat-Zinn, rather than emphasizing the connection between the self and the universe as Hanh did, instead focused on the strong connection between mind and body, thereby moving away from the metaphysical roots of mindfulness to develop a science of mind approach, one that promoted an awareness of physical, mental, and emotional states. They were primarily interested in physical and mental relaxation techniques as well as using creative imagination as a means to change behavior patterns (see Creative Imagination as a Spiritual Technique).

Psychological research with mindfulness employs a clinical approach with the intention of reducing symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. The premise of these methods is that practitioners, by being consciously aware of their individual thoughts, emotions, and sensations, can intervene in constructive ways whenever stressful or fearful states arise.

These clinical methods follow the Buddhist tradition by being nonjudgmental, and by teaching self-compassion and self-respect rather than engaging in critical self-examination. Whenever we intervene in our thoughts, we are taught to avoid criticism, guilt, or shame. This is a sensible approach.

But is mindfulness intended to be a simple awareness of thought that is judgment free? Was it ever intended to be? Rhys Davids translated the term sati to mean both “mindful and thoughtful”—to think things over. Also consider that, in traditional Buddhism, it is essential to prepare the mind (in daily life and in meditation) using moral and ethical principles (Wilson and Pile, 2014). The very act of being moral or ethical necessarily entails an exercise in discretion—judgment. But this does not imply that judgments should be unkind, overbearing, or disrespectful.

While we should avoid self-recrimination, we cannot escape the necessity of conducting a sincere moral evaluation of our thoughts, feelings, and actions—otherwise what’s the point of any mindfulness at all? What’s the point of trying to improve ourselves by becoming aware of our thoughts, motivations, and feelings if we don’t intend to adjust and improve those thoughts and feelings? We cannot escape the fact that changing our thoughts requires some moral evaluation to determine which ones we should change.

The moral values of the universe become intellectual possessions by the exercise of the three basic judgments, or choices, of the mortal mind: Self-judgment—moral choice, social-judgment—ethical choice, God-judgment—religious choice. 196.3.11

– The Urantia Book

To evaluate something is to measure it against our values and, in spiritual evaluations, moral values and spiritual values are the yardsticks in our evaluation process. Once more, we apply the four divine values—love, goodness, beauty, and truth—to any assessment of moral quality (see Four Divine Values).

But once we have conducted a moral self-evaluation, we are not interested in constant self-absorption or overmuch self-examination (see The Secret of Self Mastery). And in line with classical mindfulness, we are not interested in harboring feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, we simply recognize our shortcomings and desires before turning to our Spirit Teacher for direction and support.

Another aspect of traditional mindfulness is the inclusion of vipassana, which is the realization of intellectual and spiritual insights by contemplating and reflecting on our mental and emotional states, the nature of being, and the state of reality. And all of these ideas and insights are similar in the God experience.

It is important to note that the traditional Buddhist objective for mindfulness is more than being aware of the present, watching our thoughts, or paying attention to our breathing. It is also a process in which we discriminate and think things over—we contemplate and reflect—hence mind-full, or thoughtful. 

More Than Mindful

As a modern method, mindfulness is especially useful when it comes to being aware of anxious or depressive states of mind. It then directs practitioners to assess their thoughts with reason and logic, thereby dispelling such discordant ideas or replacing them with happier reflections. Indeed, a rational approach is the first step in any attempt to deal with unwanted emotions or disturbing thoughts.

But attaining deeper spiritual insights requires reaching beyond the ability to reason. Spiritual insights are inner visions, or intuitions, of divine realities and divine values, ones that provide a solid foundation for moral choice and religious living.

Reason alone can never validate the values and goodnesses of religious experience. 101.10.6

– The Urantia Book

Without a doubt, current mindfulness techniques contribute to psychological health, but they do not necessarily improve spiritual wellness. And almost all clinical instructors of mindfulness have taken great pains to distance themselves and their techniques from Buddhist roots, being equally as careful to avoid connections with any other religion or spiritual philosophy. Nevertheless, some advocates of the clinical approach remain spiritual at heart.

Kabat-Zinn, for instance, does not deny the spiritual experience but, in his own words, “I avoid using the word ‘spiritual’ altogether. I find it neither useful nor necessary nor appropriate in my work…” One reason for this, he states, is because of the many different connotations attached to any understanding of spirituality.

This is a reasonable response to the faults and failings of traditional religions. Nonetheless, in a very real sense, mindfulness has become his religion, and perhaps it is his way of contacting his inner Spirit. As he says, “Mindfulness allows everything to shine with the luminosity that the word “spiritual” is meant to connote.”

Kabat-Zinn does not explicitly deny God either, but he feels that, rather than looking outside ourselves for help, the most important thing is to know ourselves first. As he says, “It is just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly…”

This inward view to self-improvement corresponds with the Hindu notion of moksha—that enlightenment is reached through self-knowledge. No doubt, knowing our true self is a part of the religious experience, but whether or not it takes first place on the agenda is debatable. No matter how well-intentioned Kabat-Zinn’s philosophy may be, it is another theory, not a psychological fact. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun and a Christian mystic of the 16th century, saw it the other way around, as did (and do) many others.

We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God.

– Teresa of Avila

Your self-knowledge, as well as your awareness of how you see the world, are important realizations, and both play essential roles in the God experience. But the critical difference in the God-centered approach is that the ultimate answers to happiness and understanding are not lodged within the human psyche or some cosmic essence, but instead reside in your inner Spirit—your God connector.

Another difference is that, rather than not allowing our thoughts to influence us, we take a proactive approach to direct those thoughts along useful channels. In this case, we are allowing our inner Spirit to direct our thoughts, to spiritualize them. Rather than being a slave to your thoughts, sit back and realize that you own your mind —it’s your possession and you can do with it as you like (see Your Mind – Make It Spiritually Receptive).

To reiterate, can we ever be truly free of judgment or discretion when it comes to our thoughts? Even if we are fully aware of our character, inclinations, and views, how can we assess these personal qualities without some universal standard for comparison? Knowing the nature of God and being aware of divine values allows us to compare our thoughts and actions to truly virtuous ideals. By doing so, we gain spiritual direction and wisdom, thereby coming to know ourselves much better than we ever could with endless self-examination.

The current trend to strip mindfulness of its spiritual origins goes hand-in-hand with the increasing secularism of modern society. In science, and much of academia, there is a strong aversion to religion and spirituality unless both are discussed exclusively in terms of material and social benefits (or detriments). It is, therefore, understandable that Kabat-Zinn and others desire to appear scientific and impartial in regard to religion. But without a consideration of the realities of spirit, divine values, or spiritual achievement, we ignore the indispensable and transformative power of the Divine Presence within us, a vital influence for the progressive spiritualization of both mind and soul.

Sadly, this clinical, nontheistic approach to self-betterment doesn’t stop in the clinic. Any search of the topic will bring up a ballooning number of websites promoting meditation or mindfulness. But few of these have much to do with spirituality, even those that claim to be Buddhist in philosophy. True enough, some sites maintain a positive, humanistic or humanitarian stance, but there is little indication they are spiritually motivated.

And it is regretful that some advocates of meditation and mindfulness, rather than doing a service to others, have reduced their practices to nothing more than a profitable business, preying on vulnerable anxieties rather than promoting a beneficial means of spiritual insight and self-improvement. This is a further continuation of the downward, secular, and materialist trend that Chögyam Trungpa refers to as spiritual materialism.

On the bright side, the current approach to mindfulness is a credible search for self-knowledge and it helps to broaden our intellectual horizons. It even touches on the inner Spirit, as Kabat-Zinn implies. But it could be even more productive and meaningful when undertaken within a wholehearted spiritual context, one that includes a realization of the power of personality as well as the indomitable power of the Spirit within.

Even if we are honest, open, and humble in our approach to mindfulness, it is difficult to achieve lasting personal change by attempting to dominate the mind with the mind. Only a spirit-led personality can bring about lasting, positive spiritual changes.

All things are sacred in the lives of those who are spirit led. 155.6.11

– The Urantia Book

Mindfulness is a practical way to become aware of toxic thoughts and distressing emotional states, and it is also useful for changing these harmful thoughts. But ideally, we take our focus away from ourselves and away from any unhealthy self-absorption with personal problems. Endless introspection and undue self-examination are not productive. By concentrating on God’s perfection and divine ideals, and by allowing the Spirit to transform us, we can achieve considerably more in life.

Overall, the effectiveness of mindfulness methods would improve immensely from a healthy injection of idealistic morality and a strong dose of the God experience. We could begin with Hanh’s cosmic approach, wherein we see ourselves as an integral part of the universe, which is undoubtedly true, and then take it one step further by believing that we truly belong here as children of the Spirit—spiritually endowed beings who live in a personally interactive, peaceful, positive, loving, friendly, and spiritual universe.

Another benefit of the God-centered approach to mindfulness is our recognition and acceptance that we do not have to make it on our own. In fact, it is highly unlikely we will be able to make any significant spiritual advances in our personal betterment without the help of spirit ministry.

No one exists in spiritual isolation. You are not a cosmic orphan cast aside by a heartless universe, forever abandoned to eke out a religious existence as best you can. You have divine parents and spiritual brothers and sisters who care for you and who will give you all the help you ask for.

Mindfulness is a useful and productive technique for contacting the spark of God living within your mind. It helps you to be conscious of your consciousness—a high-minded state of superconsciousness. This elevated level of consciousness is what enables you to reach the borderland region of intimate contact with your indwelling Spirit.

Recognizing and using the power of your personality allows you to take control of your thoughts and actions by making a deliberate choice to follow the lead of your Spirit Teacher. Make use of the presence and power of your Spirit, the self-reflection of your soul, and the freewill choice of your personality to distance yourself from your rambling thoughts in order to view them at arm’s length. It is your personality and your evolving soul that enable you to be mindful, while divine values provide you with moral direction.

If you will submit to the leading of the indwelling spirit, you will be unerringly guided, step by step, life by life, through universe upon universe. 2.5.5

– The Urantia Book