Today is publication day for my new book, SEE, LOVE, BE – mindfulness and the spiritual life. In some ways it is a follow up to my previous book which offered reflections especially to Christians who might want to see what mindfulness has to offer Christian spirituality in particular.
However this is quite a different book in two key ways. First it is a more practical book arranged as an eight week programme which the reader can follow on their own or with a group. It has introductory reflections, formal meditations (with CD included), practical tips and then simple exercises which can be tried out through the day. Each chapter then ends with one of Julia Cousins’ beautiful poems.
But secondly it makes an attempt to explore the idea of spirituality beyond just its Christian context. So I have tried to explore themes which are faithful to mindfulness practice but go beyond its purely therapeutic value to the cultivating of an attitude to the whole of life, which some might call spiritual and others simply ‘holistic’. I have tried to use language and ideas which might be common to us all rather than lead with theological concepts or constructs. And only then to point out possible links with spiritual traditions like Christianity and Buddhism. But these will always remain optional for those who are interested. I am genuinely not really interested in making people religious. I am much more interested in exploring what it is to become more fully and wonderfully human.
And this all links – or may link – with much research done in recent years into the rise in number and activity of people who identify with the phrase ‘Spiritual but not religious’. (Ref. Linda Woodhead’s research at Lancaster University and Linda Mrecadante’s ‘Belief without borders’). The statistics seem to be telling us that although there appears to be a mass exodus away from formal religious institutions going on, many of these very people still relate to the word ‘spirituality’ and will join groups (and pay for them) which have some link with spirituality. Mindfulness is an example of this but also Yoga, Tai Chi, nature based groups etc. etc.. The main motivation for joining such groups is often simply to access something which the participant feels resources their lives: stress management, physical/mental health etc. But many will use more spiritual language to refer to what they are doing.
I am also drawn to this aspect of spirituality and have engaged with many people over recent years who are explorers in this area. And ‘explorers’ is probably the right term because there is much that is new and not fully formed here even though there are also many links with the ancient traditions. There are rightly questions about: what works and what doesn’t; what do we mean by ‘works’?; is everything becoming a bit fragmented and individualistic?; how do we find some kind of helpful ethical framework? (or is this deliberately being discarded?). And so I declare myself also to be an explorer in this field. I have a background and history within the Christian faith and I have grown in confidence in the value and effectiveness of mindfulness practice. But from here it feels as though the territory is wide open and there is plenty to be explored about this business of being human. I am hoping my book will make some small contribution.