Greg Bottaro was a student of mine at Boston College. He was a very good student, but even very good students seldom write very good books. He did.
It is a good book not just because it reads well but because it works well. This book is like a cookbook, or an instruction manual. To say that it makes a pretty good read is like saying that How to Build a Boat makes a pretty good read for a castaway. It does indeed make a pretty good read, but it makes a much better boat. It floats. It works.
And "you're gonna need a bigger boat" is true of all of us in terms of mindfulness. St. Augustine prayed, "Narrow is the mansion of my soul. Enlarge it." The mind is one of the two most essential powers of the soul (the other being the will). What this book does to your mind is not to fill it with stuff but to enlarge it, to strengthen it. It does to the mind what new batteries do to a searchlight.
But you have to do it, not just think about doing it. Many of us, especially we academic types, we "intellectuals," who usually have very active imaginations, are prone to think (subconsciously) that we have actually done something (like prayer or fasting or acts of charity) simply because we have thought about it. We can even come to believe that we are saintly simply because we love to read books by the saints. We are tempted to live in our imaginations, in our world rather than in the real world. (It's much easier!) We're like the theologian who, upon dying, was offered by God the choice between going to heaven and going to a theology lecture on heaven. He chose the lecture.
How important is mindfulness? More important than almost any possible object of mind. There are many, many different objects in this crazy, wonderful world for the light of our minds to light up, but if the light is weak or foggy or unreliable, all its objects will be dim, and our grasp of them weak, and our very selves dim and weak like ghosts. Our mind can be compared to the light, and everything in our world is an object to it. To improve the light itself—to clarify it and intensify it and focus it and master it—is more important than to know any of its objects (except God and yourself, the only two realities you can never escape for a single moment, in time or in eternity).
Buddha famously said, in the first and most famous and favorite line in the first and most famous and favorite Buddhist book, the Dhammapada, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought. It begins with our thoughts, it moves with our thoughts, it ends with our thoughts."
(By the way, this is not a Buddhist book. It is a Christian and Catholic book. It does not lead you into nothingness or emptiness but into everything—especially into God.)
I have ADD (which for a philosopher is usually ADHD, Attention Deficit High Definition); I am easily bored and distracted, so I love short, simple books. If a book makes ten points I will forget nine of them. That's why my favorite spiritual classic is Brother Lawrence's simple little one-point book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Its point is so clear and short that even if he never wrote the book, the title alone would be sufficient. Dr. Bottaro's book gives you much more concrete detail, exercises, and specific practical advice, but that's what it all comes down to.
St. Paul knew the importance of thought as well as Buddha did. He tells us to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Adam's and Eve's act-sin began with thought-sin. ("Did God really say that? Listen to what I say.") "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny."
By the way, this is not a Buddhist book. It is a Christian and Catholic book. It does not lead you into nothingness or emptiness but into everything—especially into God.
Thought has two poles: the object and the subject, the thing thought about and the act of thought itself. Of course it's important what we think about, what concepts we use, what understandings and beliefs and principles we have in our minds, what objects we focus on. But it's also important, and terribly neglected, to be mindful—i.e., full of mind, full of alpha waves, alert, aware, awake.
This is triply important in an age and a culture that foster a confusing and crippling complexity, a dazzling disarray of diversions, and an always-advancing avalanche of anxieties. Ray Bradbury, in his classic The Martian Chronicles, tells a story about an anxious-to-please Martian who is an empath; he gives portions of his mind to every need of every human invader from earth, and finally his mind simply bursts, like an overinflated tire. Too many of us are close to that breaking point. How can we simplify our lives?
That is always a good thing to do with external clutter, but an even better thing to do is to simplify and collect ourselves—i.e., our minds. This book will actually help you to do that.
But it's not a typical pop psychology self-help book. For one thing, it's solidly Catholic. For another thing, it really is simple. There are too many books that give you complex ways to be simple: Twelve Step programs, yogas, noble eightfold paths, zazen, or theories such as personality road maps. One searcher said, "I ran around and around and tried everything, and my mind was like a yo-yo flying centrifugally farther and farther from itself at the end of the string in my very search for the hand that held the string. I tried 'centering prayer,' but it just gave me another thing to run around searching for." Another searcher said, "I tried a Freudian psychologist, but I ended up feeling guilty about one more thing: feeling guilty. I read that 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself,' but that gave me one more thing to fear."
Here is a way out of the hall of mirrors and into the open air, out of the spider web and into the sky.
"The sky" is not an accidental image. This book will help you to pray. It will train you to focus (by this-worldly and sensory imaginative exercises), and thus to focus on God. (You can't focus on God if you can't focus.) And what could possibly be more valuable than that? Prayer is like an oxygen tank to lungs underwater, like electricity to an appliance, like love to a marriage, like food and water to a starving body, like fertilizer to crops.
Try it. You'll like it.
Peter Kreeft. "Foreword: The Mindful Catholic." The Mindful Catholic (North Palm Beach, FL: Wellspring, 2018): xv-xviii.
Reprinted by permission of Wellspring.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is the author of many books (over forty and counting) including: Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He's Ever Been Asked, Ancient Philosophers, Medieval Philosophers, Modern Philosophers, Contemporary Philosophers, Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic, Doors in the Walls of the World: Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story, Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic, You Can Understand the Bible, Fundamentals of the Faith, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, Prayer for Beginners, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2018 Wellspring
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