Mindfulness and Meditation
What’s the Difference between Meditation and Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been in the news more and more recently as people from doctors to scientists to regular people like us start to uncover the enormous benefits. So… what is mindfulness? What is meditation? And how are the two connected?
There are many ways to define meditation (see this Wikipedia article for a detailed meditation definition) but one thing to keep in mind is that meditation is an action. We have to practice it, sometimes for just ten minutes a day, sometimes only a few times a week. This is how we define meditate: it’s simply training your mind to increase its concentration, focus, and awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Many of us take up meditation because we want more calm and clarity in our lives – in general, we want to be present and have choices about what we’re doing, not just let things happen to us. It’s a lifelong training, like a gym for the mind! Meditation builds our “attention muscle” and helps us gain control over how we live our lives.
Practicing concentration as we do in meditation requires some force of will. There’s a reason Buddhists build meditation halls and monasteries. They try to create an environment free of distraction.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a state of being. Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness definition is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”. When we are mindful, we are taking in the world around us as fully as we can. We keep moving forward with our breakfast, our workout, our day – but instead of doing it mindlessly, suddenly we are present in the “now.” We have to practice mindfulness because it’s so easy to get lost in the chatter of the mind. Our days can become a whirlwind and disappear before we even know what we did or when we decided to do it.
So then, we can look at it this way: mindfulness is the way of living, and meditation is the practice. There is no goal, no place to get to. We are where we are. Mindfulness is a state you can be in all day long, as you eat lunch, walk home from work, wait in a line at the grocery store. Meditation is what helps us to nurture and cultivate mindfulness, that deeper connection to the present.
So then… what is mindfulness meditation?
Meditation can take different forms. Some people focus on the breath, while others repeat a word or phrase silently to themselves. Most often, meditation is a form of concentration meditation – whether we focus on the breath, body sensations, a phrase, a sound, or anything else. Mindful meditation is a little different in that it helps build awareness – when practicing, we try to be aware of all sensations, thoughts, and environmental cues at the same time, without paying particular attention to any one. Think about a camera. Concentration-based meditations are like looking through a lens that zooms in on one thing – for example, your breath. Mindful meditation is the opposite. It is like looking through a very wide lens, trying to encompass everything it can. Concentration meditation, which is easier than mindfulness meditation, is often recommended for beginners.
Of course, we need both mindfulness and the concentration in our meditations if we are going to build lives with awareness and wisdom. Concentration, “attention muscle,” is the tool we create in ourselves, but it’s then up to us how we use that tool. Anyone who has achieved success in life has used some great measure of concentration – but that doesn’t mean all those people used the tools they had compassionately and for the good of others throughout their careers! To get a real perspective on ourselves – to understand our emotions, our behaviors – we need mindfulness. We uncover our focus with the lens of meditation and concentration, and we look to understand it with mindfulness.
We recommend you put your efforts toward focusing your mind first – our crazy minds can overwhelm us when we first start to meditate! I’ll bet you never realized how many thoughts you had, how quickly they come and go, and how far off your mind can take you in one direction without ever warning you or giving you a chance to decide if you want to go down that path. Some meditators call this the “monkey mind.” So once we learn how to calm down the monkey a bit, then we can practice mindfulness. As you move forward, you learn how to use both meditation and mindfulness at different times to help you in different ways. For example, ever feeling your emotions getting the best of you, getting upset or anxious? Use concentration. If you find yourself going into a daze or just walking through your day, bring in some mindfulness.
The best part is, there are no rules and restrictions on any of these practices. Although we see plenty of pictures of meditators in perfect peace, legs crossed, in perfectly beautiful natural scenes, the truth is you can practice meditation anywhere. And we don’t need to wait for a calm day or moment of aloneness to practice mindfulness. Be aware as you cook dinner, to the background noise of bad television and loud neighbors. Your mind and emotions might tell you they’re frustrated with the noise, the day. That’s great! All you have to do is be aware, notice it… and keep going.
If you’d like more details on how mindfulness and meditation differ, check out this video.
So lots of people want to understand the difference between mindfulness and meditation. And so, I would explain it this way: meditation is the practice that allows you to live a more mindful life.
So if you consider that, meditation would be like playing piano scales, and then mindfulness is actually the piece that you actually play or the concerto. Or if you play baseball for example, your batting practice would be your meditation practice and the mindfulness itself is how you play the game of life.
So consider yourself practicing every day, when you practice your meditation and you’re practicing your concentration, you’re practicing your attention, you’re practicing non-judgment…
And then when you live your actual life, you have the opportunity to really fully appreciate things that much more.You sort of notice it in your day-to-day life. So, relationships become that much more vivid. You notice that you’re much more present, you’re showing up for them. You’re listening more attentively. You’re able to not take things too personally. You’re able to sort of observe your behavior so that you can be a bit more constructive in how you choose to respond. And you are responding as opposed to reacting.
So, that’s a mindful relationship, as opposed to simply practicing, which is what you do when you practice the meditation portion. I hope that clears it up.