Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Where mindfulness meets Catholicism

|   Commentary by Elizabeth Clyons
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I am one of those people who reads about four books at once because I can’t decide on one. So one can imagine my joy when we receive books in the mail to our office. Something I am doing this year is keeping track of all the books I read to count up the grand total come 2020—so I am always interested in adding another to the list.

Every so often, though, one of the books on my growing list will make a profound impact on the way I think. I recently read The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment At A Time by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. It was a book that seemed to find me at the exact time I needed it, call it Divine Providence, if you like.

A parishioner of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford with his wife Barbara, Dr. Bottaro formed the CatholicPsych Institute in 2012 to connect Catholics around the world with therapists trained to integrate the faith with the practice.

He has given many talks in the diocese and has worked directly with our bishop on a number of initiatives. He is currently serving on a newly formed committee for ongoing priestly formation in the diocese.

Being a strong advocate for mental health awareness, I had heard of and read about the practice of mindfulness before but never in the context of my own faith. When I can combine my other interests and passions with my faith, the fruit that is yielded seems to be exponentially more.

In The Mindful Catholic, Dr. Bottaro presents mindfulness teaching alongside hundreds of years of Catholic spirituality, evidence which shows that these techniques have huge potential for enhancing our health and wellbeing.

Dr. Bottaro’s advice helps the reader to become more mindful and teaches one how to pay attention to the full scope of life in order to have a greater sense of freedom, joy and peace.

Of the integration of mindfulness and Catholicism, Dr. Bottaro says, “This is a natural integration that comes from the recognition that something about mindfulness actually works.” Dr. Bottaro makes the distinction between Catholic-based mindfulness and Eastern-based meditation, saying that many meditative practices seek to empty the mind, while Catholic mindfulness views the mind to be full of reality, allowing one to see thoughts and situations for what they really are.

Having fallen in love with the Catholic view of the human person through the work of Pope St. John Paul II, Dr. Bottaro read Love and Responsibility and later more of his philosophy and saw these writings as essential manuals to understand how we’re made and what we’re made for. “This foundation provides the perfect stability for building an infrastructure of therapeutic intervention to help people flourish,” he says.

Personally, I had been using mindfulness to combat my own negative self-talk. I would find myself falling into patterns of self-deprecating thoughts, letting them lead me down a path that God never intended me to go.

In The Mindful Catholic Dr. Bottaro writes, “God made you with the highest dignity possible and with a destiny for greatness, but we can all be tempted at times by the thought that we aren’t that good. This sense is at the very root of why our minds turn against us in so many ways.”

Many of the exercises that Dr. Bottaro presents in his book are aimed at bringing healing toward these thoughts and patterns.

He writes, “Thoughts and feelings happen, but they don’t have the authority to lay claim to truth. Just because they happen doesn’t mean we have to obey them, respect them, or let our lives be run by them.”

By learning to focus on the thoughts and feelings that are coming in a particular moment, one can be made more aware of oneself, letting the thoughts and feelings lead them to the discovery of truth.

One of my greatest challenges, and a topic that Dr. Bottaro deals with extensively in The Mindful Catholic is seeing myself as God sees me. He writes, “Learning how to practice mindfulness in a Catholic context is a way to recognize the dignity God created you with and take care of yourself accordingly…your happiness is directly connected to you becoming more of who God made you to be.”

Dr. Bottaro explains that mindfulness is ‘awareness of the present moment with acceptance and nonjudgement,’ and that applies to our view of ourselves. The author describes the merciful gaze of God, saying, “This is the foundation of the gaze with which God looks at us. This is the gaze we need to look at ourselves with.”

Changing my negative self-talk is something I have to work on every day. But with practices like mindfulness and the roots of my faith, as Dr. Bottaro writes, I can “step out of the thought stream, watching the negative thoughts float by as if you are sitting on a riverbank watching leaves float by on the water.”

(For more information on Dr. Bottaro and the CatholicPsych Institute visit: www.catholicpsych.com.)