Mindfulness and Meditation - what is the difference?
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
While there is more interest in meditation or even Eastern philosophy as a whole in the current days in our society, it sometimes appears that we do not fully see the essential differences between some of the major topics of this trend. Today, I would like to look closer in to two of these – Meditation and Mindfulness. These terms are often used in a similar context, sometimes even interchangeably, but as much as they are often overlapping, still they are not the same thing, they are different practices. Let’s have a look at these two subjects in separate views:
Mindfulness – is an act of being present and paying attention to everything that you are doing. It is being in every activity that you are performing during the day. It is estimated that about 47% of our active time (awake time) we are spending thinking about something else than what we are doing. Often, we leave the house and a few minutes after we are wondering if we locked the door – this is the simplest example of not paying attention. Mindfulness is working on being actively aware of what you are doing while you are doing it, it is a skill of focusing completely on the experience. This experience could be anything including the simplest chores like peeling potatoes or washing dishes. The object is to fully engage all your five senses in a certain activity.
What would be the benefit of doing so? The answer is - a more relaxed and less stressed mind. The way this happens is that when you are fully engaged in a certain activity, your mind is too busy to keep up with your usual ‘chatter’ that happens in it. If your mind has the choice to overthink or to focus on a physical act, it will choose the physical act as it is easier to perform. If you are fully engaged in the activity you have no space for worrying about what is going to happen next, you will just progress to the ‘next’ with full engagement and without overthinking it. This can make the ‘next’ less stressful as we are going to face it without previous judgments, without labelling, guessing, predicting or expecting. I say we have all experienced situations that we were afraid to face, while we analysed and stressed all of the possible outcomes but when it came to actual situation it was much easier than we ever expected, what’s more, we were well able to deal with all of its consequences but still ended up with a few extra worries from overthinking – practising mindfulness can change this.
Mindfulness can positively affect our relationships with others – when we are patiently listening without previous judgments, we can create different connections with people around us, we become more open and most importantly, more compassionate. Lack of awareness also prevents us from listening to our body’s needs, when we are engaged too much in overthinking, we are not grounded enough to notice the fact that our body needs to rest or that it perhaps needs certain nutrients or hydration.
Mindfulness can be practised anytime and anywhere, on your own or with others. If you decide to practice put all your senses into the activity, let’s say taking a shower – feel the water on your body, feel its temperature – is it warm enough, listen to the sound of water trickling down, smell the soap, check if its consistency is pleasant for you, watch your reflection in the mirror, see how you feel about the present, be gentle with yourself, be grateful for this experience.
Meditation - is a practise of our inner life. Usually it refers to the intentional process that is focused on increasing calmness, inner peace and concentration. Meditation is an inner work, where you put yourself into the position of the observer of your own thoughts, beliefs and emotions. You will do it to better understand your actions, to understand your thinking patterns and with time to come close to or to understand your life purpose. When we meditate, we do not engage with the thoughts, we notice them; our thoughts are floating like clouds while we are learning about our inner selves. We calm our mind by not jumping from one thought to the other.
Meditation is usually done in a seated position for a certain period of time. It is about the stillness that you create in your mind, it is not about not having thoughts but just simply acknowledging them without entertaining them. When your attention is quiet and directed inwards; when you focus on one object (like a mantra or breath) as an anchor with the exclusion of anything else; and when this is done over an extended period of time while you are maintaining this state of mind - this is Meditation.
And now again – what would be the benefits of doing so? And the answer is the same – a more relaxed and less stressful mind - this is one of many benefits of Mediation. But obviously there is much more in it - finding inner peace, connecting with your true self, discovering your most natural flow. Meditation brings many benefits to health: lower blood pressure, better management of stress, anxiety and depression, better sleep, relieving symptoms of IBS and general wellbeing amongst many more.
Now – to put these two disciplines in to one perspective - in meditation we are training our focus on ‘no-thing’ as opposed to Mindfulness when you focus on ‘every-thing’. In Mindfulness you give your complete attention of all senses to a certain activity, whereas in Meditation this focus is directed inwards with the exclusion of anything else. In simple terms it can be said that Mindfulness focuses on engaging in doing in order to be, when Meditation focuses on engaging in being. However, in both disciplines you are creating a flow and this flow is called awareness and being present. Being present in the moment (main aspect of Mindfulness) is one of the requirements of meditation (when for example scanning the body in order to relax), therefore, one becomes a part of the other and personally for me, both practices are life skills that create inner peace. We often do not realise but this inner peace is rooted within us, it is available to us at anytime, anywhere. We just need to reach for it and both Mindfulness and Meditation are tools to bring this goal closer.