Spiritual vs Secular Mindfulness

Yesterday, I finished an online course offered through PESI by Dr. Christopher Willard, a licensed psychotherapist, educational consultant, and author, entitled: Mindfulness Certificate Course for Treating Kids and Teens: Interventions for ADHD, Anxiety, Trauma, Emotional Regulation and More

The course consisted of 9 modules, totaling in at around 18 hours worth of class time. To learn more about Dr. Willard: http://drchristopherwillard.com/

This class spurred in me a deeper consideration of determining for myself what the differences and pros/cons are in regards to developing mindfulness in a spiritual capacity, verses a secular one. Some people question whether it is even wise at all to separate the two: mindfulness and spirituality. Perhaps these folks are concerned about watering down the potency of mindfulness and losing its true spirit and intention. Or perhaps, like me, they might wonder how a person can teach mindfulness if they themselves do not have their own practice in which to draw experience and stability from.

So, is there a right and wrong way to offer mindfulness? Is there a point when it can become too secular?

As our local Dharma teacher says, and I very much appreciate, the classic Zen answer to any question is: It depends.

Has there ever been – and will there ever be – just ONE way in which to do ANY particular thing ALL the time? I think not.

The largest benefit I see in offering secular mindfulness is that it has the opportunity to be more accessible to a wider array of people, as many will not resonate with the spiritual component of it, which is most commonly associated with Buddhism. The largest pitfall I see is what I mentioned earlier: having unqualified adults teach it to others (whether it’s students, kids, teens, co-workers or professionals). I think the chances are low in there being value in teaching mindfulness in more of a classroom or professional development setting by an individual who does not have their own embodied practice, at least on some level.

For an overly simplified way to whittle down the difference between spiritual and secular mindfulness, I think we can look to the presence or absence of sitting meditation. Someone for whom mindfulness is a spiritual undertaking will likely have a daily and ongoing sitting meditation practice. Someone for whom mindfulness is purely secular based will likely not be engaged in a formal sitting practice. And, of course, there are variations.

For me, the biggest difficulty in starting to branch out into teaching mindfulness to kids in schools, and perhaps in staff/volunteer training settings as well, is the matter of cost and payment for my time. Since mindfulness for me is a deeply rooted spiritual practice, and given that one of my most prioritized and grateful roles is that of being a spiritual leader in my community, it is very hard for me to put a monetary value onto my service of others, as I would dearly rather offer my time for free. But aye, here comes the rub: being in and of the world, I have bills to pay. What to do?!

I’ll continue to investigate this subject at hand, asking questions of myself and looking for additional input to help guide my path forward – and, in whatever capacity that is present for you, my friends, may we all come into closer relationship with the answers we seek.

P.S Oftentimes, being inwardly inquisitive simply yields to asking better, more informed questions, too – so, let’s be prepared for that!


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