Is there a difference between mindfulness and meditation?
These two words, mindfulness and meditation, are often used interchangeably, but they are not synonyms.
Both involve heightened states of awareness. Both are beneficial in myriad ways. And that’s where the similarities end.
Mindfulness is the intention to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgment, with a soft and open mind. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of MBSR) says “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.”
In its broadest and most universal definition, meditation is a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling. The goal of meditation varies according to the technique that is practiced. Some techniques instil peace; some reduce stress, and bring insight or enlightenment.
Now here is where it gets a bit confusing, as meditation is also an integral practice for mindfulness –Mindfulness Meditation – importantly though mindfulness is not limited to Mindfulness Meditation.
The intention of Mindfulness Meditation is secular; namely, to train the mind, in the same way that we would lift weights to strengthen a muscle, to be able to concentrate — and avoid weakly wandering around on autopilot — for longer and longer periods of time.
As opposed to “zoning out,” Mindfulness Meditation is like “zoning in” on whatever phenomenon or phenomena we choose to zone in on. We consciously focus our attention upon designated and specific thoughts or sensations that arise in our field of awareness and observe them non-judgmentally – maybe even label them. Thus, there are countless types of Mindfulness Meditations because we can choose to focus our attention on seemingly infinite phenomena.
There is often confusion because focusing the attention on the breath can be both a Basic Meditation and a Mindfulness Meditation. However, the distinction lies in the intention: if you’re focusing on the breath to transcend your ego and realize your inner divinity, then that is Basic Meditation, more in line with the Hindu lineage of meditation; if you’re focusing on your breath to try to harness and train the mind and observe any thoughts that arise non-judgmentally, then that is Mindfulness Meditation, more in line with the Buddhist lineage.
MBSR offers a systematic training in mindfulness and mindfulness meditation in a structured and developmental way. MBSR is a particular way of learning where you and the teacher keep your particular stress, illness or other learning needs in mind. There is the opportunity to explore with the teacher the particular obstacles that may arise out of your situation and how you tend to think, feel and act in the world.
As well, the group offers a warm, stimulating and supportive environment, which will enrich your learning. MBSR has a focus on incorporating mindfulness practice into the day-to-day lives we have: mindfulness as a living process, not something available only in rarefied conditions.
We incorporate how we relate with not only ourselves, but also family, work and the world – finding out how to integrate a regular practice into the demands of ordinary life.