What Does Religion Mean In the Era of Mindfulness?
I’ve spent the last few days soaking up all the spiritual goodness for which Ubud is known. Particularly with Eat Pray Love or even the Kardashians, a quest to go find yourself seems incomplete without a few yoga sessions and traditional healing ceremonies in Ubud. And having spent over 5 months in Bali now and almost none of that time in Ubud, I thought it was time to truly lean into it all.
And hey, I’m slowly becoming a believer. My journey with spirituality has been fraught but gradual - from an intense meditation retreat experience in 2017, to questioning its validity and my resolve to it altogether.
But the one thing that remains is a deep conflict with the religion I’ve held with me throughout my life.
Believe it or not, I was raised and still consider myself as Christian. I went to church every Sunday, I participated in all the Catholic sacraments, I attended both Catholic and Christian schools, even leaving high school with a Christian Studies prize at some point.
Even after leaving school, I sought out churches for myself, away from my mother’s ritualised Catholic Mass but towards more Protestant views for myself.
And I’d have to admit, I’ve been drifting further and further away from it - just as I feel closer and closer to spirituality and mindfulness. The thing with mindfulness is that it’s all about tuning into yourself, listening to what you need through the signs that the universe might give you. We turn to things like meditation - that starts to cross the lines of Buddhist - or yoga, that has historic ties with Hinduism.
Was I being a bad Christian for trying these techniques?
I was probably being a bad Christian for a whole host of other reasons too: the lack of churchgoing or the time since I even opened a Bible app; the often, not-so-virtuous actions; the propensity to still drink and swear.
It hasn ‘t made it any easier that Christianity and the institutions that preach it have been riddled with controversy over the years. It’s as hard to say you’re Christian as it is to say you like a Kevin Spacey movie these days. And with the overly Evangelical or even combative Christians preaching their messages of essential hate on others, it’s hard to say you’re Christian with confidence.
At the end of the day, if Christianity is just about the belief in God and Jesus and his omnipotent role in the universe, yes I’d still consider myself a Christian. All the politics and institutions that go with that, well that’s where it get a little more complicated, particularly when you’re starting to drink the spiritual kool-aid.
Mindfulness taps into yourself instead - which could be blasphemy and dismissing the role of God in showing you that. It feels anti-establishment because infusing mindfulness into things like work seems like a zero sum game with traditional corporate structures and ideas of work.
But if we substitute all the talk spiritual people do about the ‘universe’ with the word ‘God’, wouldn’t spirituality and religion just be the same thing?
At the most basic, Christianity was supposed to be all about love. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ (Matthew 22:39).
And when someone like Israel Folau comes around and condemns all homosexuals, that is not love. When the Westboro Baptist Church do anything, that is not out of love.
But then what do I do things out of. What feels right to me? How do I know what is right and wrong? It’s hard to separate out the things that were ingrained into me as right and wrong just because I happened to be born into Christianity.
In an effort to be tolerant, to be non-combative, I had often downplayed even my own beliefs so that I didn’t step on anyone’s toes. Have I downplayed it so much that it no longer is a part of my life? Is it even a guiding force in my life anymore? In short, yes.
Call it ignorance, childhood brainwashing or whatever you want, the belief that there is an omnipotent presence (let’s call him, God) overseeing everything that is going on, is still ingrained in me.
I still might not know what ‘being a Christian’ or rather, ‘a good Christian’ truly means and I' probably won’t ever live up to the morality and virtue of many others - Christian or not.
But I will still call myself Christian. I do believe that God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, somehow has a plan for us. I believe that as much hard work I put into my actual work and into myself is still important and I choose my path and where i am going.
Listening ‘to myself’ is listening to trust my gut and understand the things that have helped me still be here. I am grateful for what I’ve gone through - God looking over it all - because I am still here and I am surviving, even thriving.
I am an agent in my own life but the signs that we seem to see around us, the opportunities that seem to fall perfectly into place, I do believe is God-powered.
No I might not pray every day, and many will turn up their noses at me when I call myself a Christian. But I don’t care. It is a part of my own identity. And it is a part of how my worldview is shaped. Whether it was merely because I was born into it, it’s something I can’t change now and I don’t want to. It gives me a sense of grounding and security that many turn towards spirituality to find.
And just as I can stay curious and open-minded about other methods - from ancient sound healings to reiki and beyond - it pays to be a little more open-minded about Christianity as well. And that’s as good as a reminder to others who can be skeptical, as it is to me.