Is There a Difference Between Mindfulness & Meditation?

More and more these days – and understandably so because of our fast-paced, unpredictable, and threatening times – we are hearing people talk of Mindfulness and Meditation. Sometimes they are used alone in a context and at other times synonymously.

The need for Mindfulness is a result of the compulsive thinking mind which, try as we may, is not easily tamed.  How often we wish we could control our thinking or just turn it off.  

Most of the time we are not in control of our mind.  It seems to have a life of its own, and when not focused on a specific task or event, creates thoughts, emotions, assumptions, judgments that arise seemingly unbidden and are often negative and therefore unwelcomed.

Our thoughts can torture us at times.  They create imagined fears, reminders of unfulfilled ambitions, evoke feelings of being less than or not good enough.  They unearth regrets, guilt, envy, anger as easily as a pitch fork unearths soft ground. The Buddha said, “Whatsoever an enemy might do to an enemy or a foe to a foe, the ill-directed mind can do to you even worse.”

Thoughts are also so repetitive because they are conditioned. All thoughts are based on past experiences. Habitual thinking patterns incline us to think, feel, perceive, approach, and interact with our environment in habitual ways. How many times have we witnessed ourselves behaving in the same non-productive or reactive ways? How many times have we heard ourselves or others repeat and repeat the same sayings or stories? Our brains are malleable. Conditioned thinking repeatedly follows neural network patterns which establish “grooves” that can be very deep and distractive from what we are experiencing in the present.

Although, at times, it may seem to us that our thoughts come from “out of the blue”, they come, in fact, from conditioned earlier patterns of thought.  

I have often stated to those in my workshops that when my mind is not focused, if someone could record my thoughts and play them back to me, they would likely  drive me crazy – repetitive, boring, nonsensical, absurd and often disturbing.  Although heard internally, that’s exactly what they do: drive us crazy which further drives us to compulsive behaviors to distract ourselves from them.

Our thoughts flit and fly but more like disturbing bats than butterflies.  Research has shown that an average person’s mind wanders approximately 50 times in 5 minutes.

It is evident most of humanity want to find the “off switch” for this often spooky and disturbing compulsive thinking mind.

As previously stated, our thoughts by necessity are created from our past experiences and knowledge.  They present to us nothing fresh and new.  Fresh and new is the domain of awareness which comes from a state of stillness which means a state of no thought.  

Here is where Mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness is a particular type of awareness. Although it has been available to humanity, as far as we know, the term wasn’t specifically introduced until 2,500 years ago by the Buddha.

Mindfulness means:

  • Present moment–by-moment awareness of our experience as it unfolds.
  • Mental alertness without the overlay of assumptions, judgments, evaluations, likes or non-likes, mental commentary and conceptualizations.

When we are mindful, we can become keen observers of ourselves – of how our mind works, what our thinking inclinations are.  We can witness ourselves and identify our biases, fears, and so on.  

With committed regular practice, Mindfulness can make us more aware of our immediate and true experiences and less captive of our involuntary compulsive thinking and the emotions they produce.

In short, Mindfulness refers to the power of our minds to give full, non-judgmental attention to our immediate experiences.

There is an analogy I have read which I wish to share with you at this point. Imagine your thinking mind in its predominant state as bottle of muddy water which has been shaken up. The particles in the water are all of your mostly erratic, disconnected thoughts that are swirling about in the water.  When in this state, it is not easy to think clearly or even beyond your own immediate and pressing needs.  However, if we simply put the jar down to rest on a table, the particles of dirt will settle and the water will become clear. When the mind is given a chance and the training, it will naturally settle and become quiet and serene.

Okay, this is where Meditation comes in.  To be able to live a mindful life the practice of meditation is almost requisite.  Meditation, through various processes,  exercises and practices helps us discipline the mind, bring it to stillness and therefore to clarity.  Meditation can assist us to open the doors to insights, a higher level of “knowing” which cannot be achieved through our 5 outer senses. Indeed, the element of insight or awareness distinguishes meditation which teaches Mindfulness from other forms of meditation. We cannot evoke insight, but we can use meditation to make us “insight prone”.

To be mindful, we need to be in the present moment.  But how are we able to do this? Meditation will teach us how to be in the Now.  It will teach us how observing the breath, entering the inner energy body of consciousness, silence, stillness, and acceptance of what is will bring us into the present moment.  All of these portals into the present moment are taught through meditation and require guidance and practice.

There are many forms of meditation – spiritual and secular – but not all have the aim of bringing one into a state of Mindfulness – nor a state of stillness which makes one open to accessing higher levels of consciousness and receiving new insights such as the spiritual truth of our Oneness, which we cannot understand through the use of our thinking minds, nor can we “see” Oneness with our physical eyes, which, for the most part are instruments of separation. Through our physical eyes we see individuals, differences, and disconnection.

Through Meditation aimed at bringing us to a state of Mindfulness, we can also open to the vast inner treasures of our true Being, such as joy, peace, serenity, and inner “knowing”.