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Jerry Earl Johnston: America's embrace of mindfulness

Published: Sunday, July 8 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Mindfulness.

It's a word I'm seeing more and more — on book jackets, in magazine articles and on the Internet.

Last week, my editor at the Deseret News used the term in an email she sent my way.

It's a term that comes to us through Zen Buddhism. It has to do with being "enlightened," with being fully awake, living in full conscious awareness. And when that state is reached — through "proper practice" and spiritual work, mindfulness can lead us to feelings of compassion, understanding and, yes, even love.

And judging from what I've found in my travels, reading and recent conversations, I'm convinced mindfulness will play a big role in the future of religion in America.

It may even become the new American religion.

And it will find great popularity for several reasons.

First, mindfulness is compatible with science. People who study the mind say that "mindful" people show a lot of activity in a section of the brain reserved for feelings of well-being and awareness. Even some of the so-called New Atheists — like Sam Harris — don't shy away from mindfulness. They embrace it.

Second, there are no creeds to believe or "facts" one must take on faith. You don't have to put your trust in an individual. You put your trust in a process.

And third, the concept of mindfulness is very flexible.

It was Alexis de Tocqueville who said each American is a democracy of one. In America we prize our individuality and our personalities. And mindfulness can be shaped to fit each person. We can, in sense, become a religion of one.

And though its roots go back to the Buddhism of India, Japan and China, there's no rule that one must use the foreign terms and expressions associated with those cultures. You can concoct your own vocabulary. The only criteria is success — becoming enlightened. And how you achieve that success is your own business.

In short, there can be mindfulness American-style.

In fact, some believe there can even be a Methodist, Muslim and Mormon mindfulness.

In case you're wondering, I have indeed tinkered with some of the practices of mindfulness — with mixed results. I've haven't gotten much beyond simple mindedness yet.

But I can see the appeal, and I can understand why Zen Buddhism is being embraced by so many Americans.

Mindfulness can center the soul and give meaning to each minute.

And it can be done by using the famous American "do-it-yourself" approach.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com

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