Father Joe Waters

What Does the Church Teach About Meditation and Emptying Ones Mind?

Q: At a recent group wellness event, I was asked to clear my mind as part of meditation. My friend later told me Catholics are not supposed to empty our minds. Is that true? And if so, why?

A: Catholics avoid some meditation techniques because they are linked with non-Christian spiritualities, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Those who practice these spiritualities believe that the mind can transcend the body, and by emptying the mind, a person can arrive at a utopian state of nothingness in which one's spirit is free to be one with creation. However, Catholics believe that the human person is an incarnate spirit such that the body and the mind are inseparable. Catholic spirituality is not so much about emptying oneself as focusing intensely on the religious dimension of our experience. In this context, meditation is about noticing and staying with the action of the Holy Spirit deep within. In Catholic Tradition, meditation is about listening for the whispers of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us not to emptiness but to an intimate encounter with our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

That being said, people can use the same skills they do in meditation to meet other needs and often certain exercises can promote genuine healing.

For example, specific meditative exercises can help bring about deep relaxation and alleviate anxiety. Athletes will use these techniques to visualize their performance and improve their game. Often, the same skills can help one cope with chronic physical pain or emotional trauma.

In this sense, "emptying the mind" is about creating interior silence so that the body and mind can focus on our experience in a wholesome way in a tranquil state.

In a secular setting, one should be cautious when a meditation leader encourages spiritual beliefs that are foreign to Christian Faith. Meditative techniques used by Catholics should promote a healthy approach to human experience that is consistent with our faith and not call us to flee from human experience or stray from the principles of our faith.

Father Joe Waters is Judicial Vicar and Censor Librorum of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

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