Monday, January 1, 2018
Dr Alison Gray (pictured), chair of the spirituality special interest group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a liaison psychiatry consultant working in Hereford and at the Beacon Clinic, Malvern, has recently said that those who engage in more ‘inward-focused’ types of spirituality – and that includes mindfulness meditation – ‘can become self-involved’.
‘In as much as religion is about binding people together, spirituality can become inward looking and selfish,’ Dr Gray said. ‘In no way does that happen to everyone … But there's a potential for it to become inward-looking and basically self-centred.’ To counter this, Dr Gray recommends that people practice mindfulness and other forms of spirituality in groups rather than alone.
Well, what do I think of that? Dr Gray is right. Damn right. Religion, at its best (note: I said, ‘at its best’), binds people together. After all, the word religion has an affinity with the Latin verb religare, which means to bind, bind back, bind up, and bind fast together. Spirituality is more personal, informal and unorganized in nature. Of course, not all religion is good. Indeed, it can be quite toxic and harmful at times, but at its best it binds people together and binds them to a power-other-than-themselves, that is, to what has been referred to as the largeness of life. We all need to get our minds off ourselves. Unfortunately, far too much spirituality makes us more self-centred, self-focused and self-absorbed. New Age spirituality tends to do that. It’s all about me, me, me. My inner growth, my health, my goals, and so on. Too many of our attempts at divesting ourselves of our little selves only heighten our obsession with self—and that is not good!
True mindfulness makes us increasingly aware of a power and presence greater than, and other than, our little, tiny, puny selves. The regular practice of mindfulness increases our awareness of the flow of life of which we are but a small part. There is the inner content of our mindfulness but let’s not neglect the outer content as well, that is, all that is going on around us and outside of us.
The truly mindful person grows in love, compassion and tolerance for their fellow human beings, indeed, for all life in all its myriad forms and comes to know that he or she is one with all life.