The terms ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’ are often connected.
Both are techniques to calm a churning mind, both can complement each other, and so both can be seen as interchangeable.
While meditation and mindfulness do have a close relationship – and frequently interact – there are some key differences.
An umbrella term that covers a variety of techniques and practices, meditation has been present for thousands of years. It tends to be undertaken formally, in a specific manner, often for a specific time, and requires your full focus.
Meditation is a means to clear your mind, to withdraw your senses, and to concentrate your attention on a single point.
By turning your focus inwards, meditation makes you aware of – but detached from – the constant turmoil of the mind.
Over time, regular meditation practice leads to a level of consciousness that’s completely different from your normal waking state – a state of profound and deep peace, of mental clarity and of emotional serenity.
While meditation can ultimately give you mastery over the mind, it is not an act of doing, it’s a realisation of being – an understanding that you simply are.
For those seeking spiritual development, regular meditation is one of the main ways to progress this, and to connect with your higher Self.
But, while meditation has deeply spiritual roots – and its practice forms a part of several world religions – you do not have to hold any religious beliefs or faith to practice or gain benefit from it.
Meditation is for everyone – old and young, the devotedly religious and the stridently atheist.
As this article points out, meditation is ‘innately human’, and maintaining an agnostic or atheist position doesn’t limit its effectiveness at all.
Mindfulness is a means to give complete attention to what’s happening right here and right now. It can be carried out at any time, and applied to all aspects of daily life.
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, being aware of your body, your thoughts, your senses, your feelings and your environment – observing and accepting this without judgement.
By focussing on the moment and becoming aware of your surroundings, what you are doing and how you are reacting, you can increase your awareness of yourself, your environment – and improve your interactions with the world and those around you
You can apply mindfulness to all sorts of tasks, and practice it throughout your day.
You can carry out mindful movements, mindful eating, mindful walking or simply apply mindfulness techniques to cleaning your home – decluttering your physical space while also decluttering your mental space.
Like meditation, mindfulness can be completely secular and doesn’t have to be associated with Eastern spiritual philosophies and concepts.
Mindfulness is not meditation
While it can be a tool to help with meditation – and is a central technique within several traditions – mindfulness is not meditation.
Mindfulness can help make the physical and mental benefits gained from meditation easier to achieve and so can be an initial step for those seeking a deeper transformative experience.
Mindfulness can also be nurtured and improved during formal meditation, while its practice can enhance meditation, making it easier to maintain focus.
Just to confuse things a little, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation. This will be discussed in a later article.
As looking after the mind is also healing for the body, both meditation and mindfulness can have many positive and similar effects.
Meditation can improve concentration, sleep, creativity and happiness. It can help treat depression, anxiety, stress and eating disorders.
Studies have also shown that it can have a physical effect on patients recovering from breast cancer.
It can even make you kinder!
As it encourages clarity of thought mindfulness can also lower levels of depression, reduce insomnia, anxiety and stress – and increase levels of empathy and compassion.
It is important to note that while meditation and mindfulness can be very effective tools for self-caring, they are not a ‘cure-all’.
Meditation should not be the only means of coping with serious mental illness. If you wish to explore meditation and you’re experiencing poor mental health it’s advisable to discuss this with your doctor or therapist.