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Not mindful of the Church’s teaching?

by
23 August 2013

Ann Morisy reads two books that fight shy of explicit religio

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Mindfulness and the Art of Urban Living: Discovering the good life in the city
Adam Ford
Leaping Hare Press £8.99
(978-1-908005-77-9)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (use code CT559 )

Mindfulness at Work: Flourishing in the workplace
Maria Arpa
Leaping Hare Press £8.99
(978-1-908005-76-2)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (use code CT559 )

THESE two stylish and yet modestly priced books are part of the Leaping Hare Press series on "conscious living" - a growing genre that suggests it is possible to have all the benefits of faith without faith itself. Basically, these are self-help books with a kindly hue rather than stern challenge. In fact, they would not be out of place as a series in The People's Friend, with its marketing line "the perfect ingredient to brighten any woman's day".

Adam Ford, with his focus on urban life, has made an effort to be up to date, with references to guerrilla gardening and citizen power, but mostly what you get is encouragement to take exercise and visit art galleries, parks, and cemeteries. For "urban", you need to read "London". Ford, however, does indeed make reference to my home city of Liverpool, but under the heading "The fear of urban riots".

With little exception, there is a disappointing predictability about Ford's efforts, and, extraordinarily, he provides no explanation of what is meant by mindfulness, seeming fearful of challenging the reader, or perhaps fearful of an editor who has warned him not to stray into religious ideas.

Maria Arpa makes more effort at sharing insights into mindfulness, including how it can have an impact on organisations, as well as on one's working life. She also offers exercises and meditations, including a two-week plan that encourages mindfulness in relation to one's employment. In particular, in the chapter "The Honest Audit", Arpa invites the reader to consider the possibility that one's perception and interpretation of workplace politicking might be wide of the mark. In the same chapter, Arpa succeeds in making exceptionally apt use of the lyrics of a Bob Marley song.

Neither of these books would count as religious, and they make no effort to be Christian. Rather, they encourage mindfulness in the sense of "a conscious awareness of the present moment and . . . awareness of yourself in the moment" (Arpa). The risk is that such mindfulness feeds narcissism, reflecting the purpose of this Leaping Hare series as aids to personal well-being.

As positive psychology increasingly highlights the benefits that faith brings, we have to get used to the reduction of faith to its functionality. Nevertheless, we need not be too troubled by this development, because the self-same positive psychologists endorse the insight of religious sages that what may begin as a selfish pursuit will nevertheless bring transformation, as mindfulness cannot help but open us to the possibility of God.

Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian and lecturer.

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