Both of these terms regularly get tossed around on this blog. I recently realized that I’ve never defined them or talked about the subtle differences between them. It’s high time to change that!
Meditation Is an Action
Meditation requires you to arrange your body in a certain position and actively clear all of the thoughts from your head.
It is a deliberate pause in your day that has a specific beginning, middle, and end. Think of it like brushing your teeth or doing some other routine
This isn’t something that can be multi-tasked. When you meditate, it is the only thing you’re doing at that precise moment in time. There’s no room for distractions or breaks during it.
Sometimes it even requires you to willfully continue to keep your mind clear of thoughts and focus on your breathing if you’re having a lot of trouble.
Mindfulness Is a State of Mind
Mindfulness, on the other hand, does not require this level of focus. It is about remaining aware of what’s happening to you at this precise point in time without living in the past, worrying about the future, or passing judgement on what I’ve observing.
I can and have practiced mindfulness while standing in line, listening to the rain patter against my window, waiting to hear the results of medical tests, feeling annoyed by a careless stranger who wasn’t paying attention to where he or she was walking, and watching a dog chase squirrels at the park.
There are usually other thoughts floating around in my head when I practice mindfulness. As long as I remain focused on whatever is happening in the present moment and aren’t making judgements, I allow my brain to think whatever it wants to think.
Often it begins to focus on the details of the room, park, store, or other place where I happen to be that day. I like the thrill of noticing little things in those settings that many people overlook like the color of a pet’s leash or how many pigeons were wandering around while they waited for someone else to feed them. I usually tend to rush past those things myself, so slowing down enough to pay attention to them is a wonderfully healthy thing for me to do.
You Can’t Have Meditation without Mindfulness
The biggest reason why I file the meditation posts under mindfulness here is that you can’t meditate without first learning how to be mindful. Every time I pause and pay close attention to my surroundings, I get just a little better at meditating as a result.
There is something so joyful about seeing how mindfulness affects my meditation practices. As I’ve mentioned in the past, meditation is something I struggled a lot with when I first began practicing it.
My mind really hated the idea of sitting quietly and doing “nothing” for any length of time. Learning how to quiet it without physically sitting down and participating in traditional forms of meditation was eventually how I learned to slide into this practice.
Mindfulness became a habit for me long before meditation did.
(Incidentally, I’ve also pick up some fabulous ideas for poems and stories as well by watching people! You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about writing dialogue as well as human nature in by quietly observing how they interact with each other in public. Perhaps this should be the topic of a future post? What do you think?)