“While the stillness and connecting with one’s inner self cultivated through mindfulness are certainly an important part of a spiritual practice, feelings of wonder and awe — the amazement we get when faced with incredible vastness — are also central to the spiritual experience. And according to new research, mindfulness may actually set the stage for awe.” – Carolyn Gregoire
Mindfulness practices developed primarily as spiritual practices. Contemplative practices developed millennia ago and were seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and many native (so called primitive) religions. They were used to heighten the practitioner’s experience with ultimate reality, whether that be a deity or seeing the nature of reality. By calming the mind and reducing the internal chatter contemplative practices are thought to open up a transcendent reality not otherwise attainable. So, mindfulness and spirituality/religion have been intimately linked. (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/16/why-are-we-spiritualreligious/).
It has only been in the last few decades that mindfulness has been practiced as a secular activity. This allowed it to flourish in a skeptical west which saw it as a heathen religious practice. As a result, mindfulness practices were employed for secular purposes such as improvement of health, psychological well-being, and cognitive development. But, now because their secular benefits have been firmly established by science, mindfulness practices have become accepted and firmly embedded in western life. The establishment of their acceptability, has led to a re-emergence of their initial purpose of the development of spirituality.
Adolescence is often a time of rapid spiritual development as the teens begin to seek deeper understandings of reality and life. But, there has been very little research into the emergence of spirituality and religious practice in adolescents. In today’s Research News article “Support for adolescent spirituality: contributions of religious practice and trait mindfulness”
Cobb and colleagues explore spirituality, religious practices, and mindfulness in 11 to 16-year old adolescents. They asked “two questions: (1) do different portraits of spiritual life exist for adolescents involving religious practice and spiritual experience and (2) might religious practice and trait mindfulness offer support for the development of spiritual experience.” They used statistical techniques to identify different clusters of activity and discovered four unique profiles of spirituality and religious practices: Highest Overall Spirituality, Spiritual Experience, Religious Practice, and Lowest Overall Spirituality.
The adolescents indicating Highest Overall Spirituality had a strong religious practice and strong spiritual beliefs and experiences. The Spiritual Experience group had a moderate-high level of spiritual experience and Spiritual Self-Discovery, but generally did not religiously practice. Religious Practice group was defined by moderate-high levels of private religious practice and religious identity and relatively low spiritual experience and values. Finally, the Lowest Overall Spirituality group had low levels of spiritual experience and low levels of religious practice.
Spirituality/religious practice groups and percentage of adolescents in each group.
|Religious||Highest Overall Spirituality||Religious Practice|
|Spiritual Experience||Lowest Overall Spirituality|
Cobb and colleagues also found that the adolescents in the high spirituality groups had significantly higher mindfulness than those in the low spirituality groups regardless of the level of religious practice. This analysis implies that high mindfulness is associated with spirituality while religious practice is not.
The authors speculate that mindfulness is a “gateway” to great spiritual awareness and ultimately a more integrated spiritual life. That would certainly fit with the origins of mindfulness practices as means to attain spiritual development. But, their results do not demonstrate that mindfulness causes spirituality as there was no active manipulation of either. It is possible that high levels of spirituality cause high mindfulness or that some third factor such as familial spirituality might simultaneously increase both spirituality and mindfulness. Research is needed wherein mindfulness training is implemented and its effects on spirituality measured. In addition, it will be important to explore these relationships in older individuals to establish that the relationship of mindfulness and spirituality is not simply restricted to adolescents.
Regardless, it is clear that spirituality and mindfulness are intimately connected, that an ability to quiet the mind and look inside is highly associated with spiritual experience. So, get more spiritual with mindfulness.
“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” ― Albert Einstein
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies