The difference between mindfulness and meditation?
We are often asked about whether mindfulness and meditation are the same thing. My answer is yes and no. It is possible to practice mindfulness without meditating. It is possible to practice meditation without being mindful. And it is possible to practice mindful meditation!
So what is mindfulness?
Essentially mindfulness is becoming aware of what is, in the present moment. There are many things we might become aware of. We might notice our senses, our surroundings, our emotions, our breath. We might even practice becoming aware of the stream of thoughts passing through our minds – ideally without getting caught up in them. What is important is that we are aware of what is actually happening in the present moment.
We might practice mindfulness by tuning into our senses when we are out for a walk in nature, choosing to observe the sounds of the birds rather than distract ourselves with a podcast. We might practice mindfulness by paying more attention during an everyday activity such as washing the dishes, gardening or colouring in. We also might practice mindfulness through meditation.
So what is meditation?
Meditation is a formal practice in which we are training our minds by choosing to focus our attention on a specific focal point. Sometimes the focal point of the meditation is something that we are experiencing in the present moment. We might choose, for example, to focus our attention on the felt sensations of breathing just as it is. When doing so, our intention is simply to be aware of the sensations of breathing. We are not trying to get anywhere in particular. We would consider this to be a mindfulness meditation.
However, there are also meditations in which we are actively trying to change how we feel. Perhaps we are using words or a visualisation to help us to feel calm or confident? Is this mindfulness? We would say not. This kind of practice is often taking us away from the reality of what is happening in the moment. This is not a bad thing. However it isn’t mindfulness.
The grey areas.
At Mindful Therapies we teach specific mindfulness meditations in which the focus of our attention is the body, or the breath, or sounds. However, we also teach practices in which we are invited to consider things that we are grateful for or connect with a sense of kindness towards ourselves and others. Those practices are not 100% mindfulness. We are adding something in. We are planting the seeds that we hope will change how we feel – to generate feelings of gratitude, abundance, kindness, compassion. But once we have planted those seeds, we watch to see what emerges. That is the moment of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not as simple as it seems. But if you are noticing what is happening as it is happening, and you have chosen to do so, chances are you are being mindful!