Meditation and mindfulness: What's the difference?
The words meditation and mindfulness get thrown around frequently today. It wasn’t too long ago when these two terms were not used and if you heard meditation or mindfulness it was because you were a hippie or traveled to different parts of the world where meditation is a part of the culture. Meditation and mindfulness were viewed as wuhwuh activities that only Buddhist monks, hippies, or pot aficionados knew about. Today, we hear or read the words meditation and/or mindfulness at business board meetings, in the front of a magazine cover, medical research, and even in some school buildings. You’re probably wondering: What is meditation? What is mindfulness? And are meditation and mindfulness the same thing? Lucky for you I’m here to break it down for you.
Are meditation and mindfulness the same?
Meditation and mindfulness are very similar in that these practices are life skills that can be challenging to master, and it takes great discipline to practice. Both practices bring awareness to our realities. They can each bring calmness to our lives. However, meditation and mindfulness are not exactly the same practices.
Meditation brings awareness to our inner life by decreasing all of the talking we constantly hear inside our minds, many times without even realizing that this inner dialogue is occurring. Meditation comes in many forms from vipassana to transcendental meditation. The idea is to quiet the mind long enough to become fully aware of your emotions, thoughts, and/or your physical body in order to better understand your reality. The idea is to be in a state of restful awareness. Does that sound calming already?
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is becoming aware of the our daily experiences in the world we engage in. Basically, the goal is to be actively aware of what you’re doing. Haven’t you ever heard someone say or even caught yourself saying this statement while driving, “Wow! I didn’t even realized we were here already.” How often do we mindlessly drive to and from work or walk across a parking lot or street. We don’t often engage in all of our senses and experience the world around us in its fullness. And isn’t that a shame? We don’t know how long we have on this planet and we often pay little attention to the world around us. So, what mindfulness practice does is remind us to engage in the world fully, using all five senses, and simply paying attention to what we’re doing and interacting with.
Different sides of the same coin
Personally, I think if you practice one you practice the other. I can’t imagine having a meditation practice, but not being mindful during parts of the day. It’s like wearing prescription glasses while you sleep and not wearing the prescription glasses during the day while you work. Meditation practice is the formal practice that hones our energy to focus in our mind, body, heart, and spirit, while during our daily activities we can bring similar awareness through the informal practice of mindfulness. The formal and informal practices can be like a well balanced diet that supports our minds and bodies in various ways. Just like you couldn’t solely survive on apples alone, even though apples are yummy and have many important nutrients, we have to also include vegetables and plant-based and/or animal proteins in order to fully and optimally sustain our brain and body functions. The same is true with meditation and mindfulness practices. The two compliment each other and provide us with a health diet of restful awareness and wakeful awareness that combine to improve our responses to the stresses of daily life and increase our joy and light-heartedness we bring to our lives and others.