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Nowadays mindfulness and meditation are everywhere. They became mainstream, and both terms are often used together in the same context and referred to has having the same benefits.
However, are they the same?
The confusion is understandable: they both give us skills to live a happier and more balanced life, and they both give us the tools to enhance our ability to focus on the present moment.
Spoiler alert: we cannot be happy if we keep on regretting the past and worrying about the future.
We should not think of mindfulness and meditation as being the same, even if they have similarities, they are different practices.
Let’s take a better look:
Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention and noticing and being present in what we are doing.
Mindfulness is all about awareness. The development of awareness in the present moment, in the here and now.
You practice being mindful by being fully engaged with the present moment, by being fully present: body and mind.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere, with anyone, at any time. You just have to show up and be fully engaged in the here and now.
When you are being actively mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, feelings, body sensations, movements and behaviours. That’s how you engage with the present moment.
This seems like a simple and easy practice but it is not. Our attention is being constantly hacked, and we usually get distracted. Most people don’t even notice the fact that their minds wander from the actual activity they are participating in, to other thoughts and sensations. By practicing mindfulness, you are actively involved in the activity with all your senses instead of allowing your mind to wander.
This mind-wandering leads us to live on auto-pilot mode: body and mind are completely disconnected. And leads to unhappiness.
According to a Harvard study, people spend 46,9% of their time while walking, eating, shopping or watching tv, thinking about something other than what they are doing. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
This kind of mindless behaviour is common, usually our mind is lost in the virtual reality of the past (regretting) or future (worrying) and our brain is running on auto-pilot with our head full of “I should have” or “what ifs”.
This is where living a mindful life can help.
Meditation is an intentional practice and usually refers to formal, seated practice.
There are many types of meditation, according to their different focus.
Some examples of seated meditation: Vipassana meditation, Breath awareness meditation, Loving kindness meditation (Metta), Zen meditation, Mantra based meditation, Visualisation meditation, Mindfulness meditation (you are right, the focus here is to train the mind to remain aware and present in the moment).
Regardless the type, meditation offers time to turn inward to increase concentration, calm and balance. It offers relaxation and heightened awareness.
For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical wellbeing, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.
Seated meditation usually begins with deep breathing in a comfortable position, bringing all your awareness to your breath—inhales and exhales—consciously guiding the mind toward an anchor, or a single point of focus. In meditation, you typically spend a focused piece of time—anywhere from a minute to an hour or more—in which you are tuned inward.
In case you are wondering you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day… Unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for one hour 🙂 Old zen saying.
As you can see, mindfulness and meditation are not the same: mindfulness is the ability of being present in your daily life, meditation is how you train to achieve that presence.
Mindfulness is awareness in life, meditation is training the mind to develop the awareness (it’s the gym).
They are both skills that you can develop. You develop them through practice. Becoming aware requires practice, disconnecting the auto-pilot requires practice, being fully present with the ones we love requires practice, engaging fully in the here and now requires practice, sitting and developing a solid meditation practice requires.. practice.
Mindfulness practice, being fully engaged with the present moment, checking in on yourself and noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, feelings, body sensations, movements and behaviours, and meditation practice (in this case mindfulness meditation) training your mind to remain in the present moment.
Happiness is also a skill. Mindfulness and meditation make you better at it.
One last note to say what mindfulness and meditation are not:
Mindfulness is not forcing yourself to give attention to just one thing.
Meditation is not stopping your thoughts or not thinking about anything.
I hope this was helpful to you.
Take good care of you,
P.S. For those interested, here are 3 “official” definitions of Mindfulness:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”~Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way.
Mindful awareness, as we will see, involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.” ~Daniel J. Siegel
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” ~Sylvia Boorstein