Have you been hearing all about meditation and mindfulness practices but confused about the difference? You’re not alone.
Are mindfulness and meditation really different? Are they equally important for a life of balance? How do these different practices affect the brain?
These are all valid questions with varying answers. It does seem the two practices have a lot in common but they aren’t exactly the same.
Meditation is defined as engaging in a mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of awareness.
Mindfulness is similar; a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
Pretty similar definitions and both focus on staying in the present moment.
Depending on who you talk to, you will have different interpretations of their meanings and varying ideas surrounding their differences. There does seem to be a relative consensus that the main difference is the practice itself.
Meditation is a form of mindfulness, but is mindfulness a form of meditation?
For me to check off the list that I meditated that day, I need to complete a particular task, which is to sit down, close my eyes and focus on my breath and other sounds in the room (or count) for at least a few minutes at one time. I envision turning my frontal lobe off and simply letting my brain rest. I find it recharging and can feel my racing thoughts slowing down.
Mindfulness is also recharging and slows down the mind but it’s often WHILE I’m doing something else. It’s the act of fully paying attention to what I’m doing. Meditation does this as part of its definition.
But being mindful while washing the dishes, listening to your child tell you a story or while walking in nature isn’t passive. It’s engaging, mindfully – your mind is full, but with present moment thoughts.
Now it does get tricky because I sometimes reach a meditative state of my brain “resting” while I’m being mindful. This is sort of the jack pot for me, but it doesn’t happen very often.
I sometimes wonder if this is the state expert meditators walk around in. Are they always living in the present moment except for the few strategic times they need to plan for the future or remember a past time?
One of the main reasons I got into mindfulness was because I struggle to stay present. I spend way too much time worrying about the future or feeling sad about the past.
These feelings some of the time are normal and a natural part of being human, but I was living, mostly in the future, frozen with fear over all the things that could go wrong. Bringing my attention to the present moment was an instant escape from the uncomfortable future.
I started off meditating, and it does help a lot, but it’s sometimes exhausting. It’s often hard to remember to do it, and if I’m sleep deprived or on overdrive, my efforts feel in vain. I still attempt it almost daily in hopes I will get better and as a preventative method to avoid worry spirals but it’s yet to become my go-to practice.
Mindfulness on the other hand, seemed like a more doable effort long term and a practice to complete throughout the entire day, sometimes only seconds at a time, even when I was in a worry spiral. When I remember to be mindful (which is honestly the hardest part), I feel so much less overwhelmed and more in control. It becomes apparent to me that we have nothing but the present moment and in that moment, I am ok.
Through mindfulness, tasks become less tedious and I can feel myself physically relax. Physically relaxing is important for meditating too, but it’s something I have to do on a more conscious level to then obtain a more subconscious state. It’s much harder to reach a state of “flow” for me in meditating because my mind wanders a lot.
Mindfulness is a much stronger catalyst for me to reach “flow”. The state of flow is defined by Zen Habits, as a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully immersed in a task, forgetting about the outside world.
It can be a blissful state where time flies and you get more done than you realize. I’m assuming it’s a motivating concept behind the “time flies when you’re having fun” mantra.
Flow comes much easier to me when I am focused on a task that is tangibly productive (washing dishes, writing about something I am passionate about, folding laundry) vs a more passive meditation practice (focus on breathing, count seconds while your eyes are closed, watch and focus on the clouds going by).
Bottom line, meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand and most of us would be best served working both into our lives on a daily basis. It’s about slowing down our racing, often times mixed up brains that contribute to too much focus on the past and the future and more overall mental pain in this world.
Pain begets pain and peace begets peace. Clearly, the world needs more peace. It’s about prioritizing the present moment and making it our default state. It’s where peace can be found the vast majority of the time.
Whatever practice works best for you is the one that is best! For me, making it a goal to always be mindful with a daily deliberate practice of meditation a few minutes a day seems to be where I’m at in life. And this of course can change over time as life changes.
But staying in the present moment as much as I possibly can is an overall worthy goal for me. What about you? How do you aim to stay present throughout your days? Happy Minding!