Both involve heightened states of awareness. Both are beneficial in myriad ways. And that’s where the similarities end.
Mindfulness is about noticing the interplay between you and your environment, whereas meditation is about immersing yourself in the world deep within yourself.
The aim of a mindfulness practice is to notice what’s happening now, as opposed to thinking about the past or the future. You can practice mindfulness while you’re doing other things like driving, conversing and eating.
Developing a mindfulness practice is as simple as focusing your attention on one, some or all of the following:
- What do you see, hear, smell and feel around you?
- What sensations do you feel on the exterior and the interior of your body?
- What thoughts are flowing through your mind?
- What feelings do you have about your surroundings, sensations and thoughts?
Do that and voila! You’re practicing mindfulness.
You can know that you’ve developed a strong mindfulness practice when you find yourself in the flow and can return there often.
The concept of flow, i.e. being in the zone, is a deep form of mindfulness that we’re probably all familiar with. Whether it’s playing an instrument, a sport, or something else, nothing exists outside of the flow, not the audience or the noise in the arena. Not even the arena. Flow is complete absorption in the task at hand. That’s as close as mindfulness comes to meditation.
When it comes to meditation there is no task.
A quick, but important mention about the word meditation: It’s Latin for “deep contemplation.” Compare that to the Sanskrit word dhyana, which is a state of consciousness beyond the thinking mind. I’m actually speaking about dhyana, here. But I don’t want to complicate an already subtle subject, so I’m using meditation, instead.
The practice leading to meditation is about stilling the mind. Activity, even if it can be performed without concentrating, such as something habitual like walking, engages the mind. Therefore, the practice leading to meditation is a solitary one. You can’t meditate while you’re doing other things, either physically or mentally. That’s why it often happens seated in silence with eyes closed.
Yet even sitting crossed legged with your eyes closed is no guarantee you’ll enter a state of meditation. If you’re noticing your legs aching and the wind whistling through the trees you’re not meditating. But you are practicing mindfulness, which is actually good preparation for the practice leading to meditation.
More specifically, this is how a mindfulness practice can evolve into a meditation practice. First, practice mindfulness to develop your ability to focus. It doesn’t matter what on. The aim is to restrain the mind from roaming boundlessly. Next, narrow the focus of your attention by concentrating on an object. Begin with a physical object. Try selecting one with either a positive connotation or none at all. When you can concentrate for a sustained period of time, switch the object of your attention to something subtler, like a sound or a simple concept. Next, remove that focal point and focus on either your ability to focus or nothing at all. After focus becomes both the subject and the object of your attention, relinquish the effort to focus at all. Eventually, subject and object merge into One.
When your attention dissolves in a formless, timeless realm that “feels” complete you’re in meditation. That state can’t easily be described with words because words are a tool of the intellect and meditation is a state beyond the intellect. Nevertheless, you’ll know when you’re there.
Practice mindfulness and you'll eventually experience meditation, which yields profound enjoyment of the gift of simply being alive.
If you enjoyed this post consider tweeting or sharing it so others might, too.
BODY – MIND - SPIRIT