I had some interesting discussions last weekend about ‘mindfulness’ vs ‘meditation’. I was talking to a friend about how ‘mindfulness’ is going mainstream, whilst ‘meditation’ is often seen as ‘Eastern WooWoo’ and can trigger rejection and fear from many. And an article I read yesterday confirms that opinion. Meditation is bad and scary but mindfulness is cool and good.
When I used to teach in a local Church Hall, I remember the debates about whether meditation and yoga should be ‘allowed’ on Church premises. Yet pilates (derived from yoga) and mindfulness (essentially meditation) were considered perfectly acceptable. It all came down to the name.
Would that rose by any other name smell as sweet?
Why do we let the name have power over us?
Does it matter what it’s called?
Does changing the name make it more socially acceptable and available to people?
Does changing the name cause it to lose something of its essence?
And what’s the difference between ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’, anyway?
When I was writing the 28 Day Meditation Challenge book, I spent hours and hours, trying to come up with an answer to that question. The problem is that they’re both aspects of the same thing.
As a meditation & mindfulness teacher, I see both meditation and mindfulness as ancient practices with broadly common goals, including:
- Inner peace and calm
- Compassion for self and others
They are both intended to be profoundly spiritual life-changing practices, not just the superficial stress-busting techniques that are popularised in our media.
Mindfulness could be described as becoming fully aware of the present moment, including the stream of consciousness of your mind, without judging it or changing it. This naturally quietens the mind and can offer insights into the auto-pilot reactions we have been running in life. It helps us to connect with the true nature of what we are experiencing – and to accept it. This can lead to a reduction in stress levels and a strong sense of inner peace and happiness.
Meditation involves concentration techniques, to focus on a particular exercise to quieten the mind. It can help us to connect with our deeper wisdom, so that we see those same auto-pilot reactions and make changes. It can help the mind to focus more clearly, slowing it down and preparing us for deep-acting techniques.
Of course, these are simplified descriptions, but they give you an idea of the commonly-accepted meanings of the two words.
Meditation and mindfulness are complementary – there is a huge overlap. For many of us, they are aspects of the same thing.
There are so many ways of practising meditation and mindfulness. There is no right or wrong way (unless your chosen belief system tells you otherwise). But there are practical ways to lay the foundations that will work more effectively for us in our over-busy Western culture – and that’s what this book is about.
You can’t meditate unless you are being mindful – i.e. resident here in the present moment; and mindfulness is a form of meditation.
So the two are like strands of a rope, twisted together. They are distinct, but inseparable. Take away one and the other won’t work.
As a nation and in our media, we still have ‘meditation baggage’.
But ‘mindfulness’ doesn’t do justice to the immense power of dedicated meditation practice to transform your experience of life.
It’s semantics; it’s word-play; it’s labels. And labels, whichever you choose, cannot capture the essence of the experience.
I’m curious: what do you think?
What do the words ‘mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’ conjure up for you?
What would you say is the difference between the two? What are the similarities?
Please share your thoughts via the comments box!
P.S. If you’d like to find out more about how to meditate, how about joining us for the 28 Day Meditation Challenge, which will help you learn how to meditate (and change your life) in just ten minutes a day – and it even helps you figure out how to find the time 🙂
This is what I have understood from the discussions.
“Meditation is the Art of Mindfulness and Mindfulness is the Science of Meditation”
As a practitioner of meditation and Eastern ways since I was 13 Now 58, I have watched the west assimilate much of eastern culture but it is still far from truly understanding true meditation. Mindfulness is more of a focus, and concentration method which certainly is beneficial, but it is not true meditation other than the term being used loosely. True meditation can not be accurately or effectively done without very good powers of concentration and this is paramount to good result. By definition, true meditation is very focused, laser like concentration, used to know God. It’s ultimate goal. When the bible says,” Be still, and know that I am God”, it is precisely making reference to stillness of the restless mind. The average American has no idea the profoundness of stillness that can be attained with proper technique and faithful practice. Nor are they aware of the resulting “evidence” of God that will manifest as a result, and from which true, not blind faith born of dogma is born. As it says in Revelations..”FAITH IS THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR”. True faith is based on this evidence in other words, and to achieve it one must do “the works” as the bible makes reference to it. The key ingredient however is to not do the works for the sake of achieving some reward but to do them with devotion because in your Heart of Hearts, you have tired of the cycles of birth and rebirth, and desire to know the creator above all else.
It’s very spiritual, but definitely ‘part of me’, rather than an ‘external God’
Hey Clare, I read through the article in a curious attempt to find a similar realization of the differences. Found it! Great explanation indeed so heres mine very shortly put; Meditation can only be practised upon realizaton of the self. Mindfulness is indeed a part of meditation but in itself holds no great spiritual meaning unless its perceived as a part of meditation,which in turn, requires self realization in order to hold spiritual meaning which one then meditates on.
What comes with the quote above:
I suggest that you keep on reading on that exact subject, God or just Consciousness. Youre very close I think. If you realize that you are a spiritual being, then you must also regognize that everything and everyone is also spiritual. Also, that everything is connected and intertwined, just as the subject of this article. The lack of perspective, or more properly, Consiousness is the reason for confusion and identifying with external things. But since everything is connected and intertwined, so must the lack of Consiousness be. This means God is paradoxically both internal and external. The fact that youre reflecting on matters such as this, shows that your level of Consiousness is higher than say, my dog’s. In fact its higher than most human’s as we can see everyday on the news. So what you have is an experience of a part of Consiousness or God which is your true spiritual self, your soul. And its purpose is to connect with and trust its source. That is Love. And it does that by raising its level of Counciousness. And its doing so Now in this world of Matter, and it will continue until it finds its Source. I deeply recommend that you Meditate on this 🙂 That is, your relationship between your soul and the highest Counsiousness or God.
Peace, Stillness and Love
Thank you for sharing your experience of this, Maximilian. I enjoyed reading your comments.
Isn’t it funny how hard it can be to describe this experience?
With love, Namaste,
Yes its very funny, but sometimes infuriating, so one has to be careful choosing the right setting. For example when you need say 5 minutes( which isnt that much really) of attention when speaking and you know you cant cut corners or simplify your points, but the other person isnt patient enough and immideately switches subject or gets distracted, or says your thinking too much.
So I once was angry and thought to myself “geez this language is limited i have to speak this much and no one seems to listen” but now i know that I was only half right: Its our minds that are limited; especially when deeply bound to Ego
So i guess the first step is to discipline our minds so that 5 minutes of talking/listening doesnt seem like a long time, not to mention longer periods of ongoing verbal communication, to even dream about describing this experience with ease with another person. Until that time, where unnecessary explanation is no longer needed, keep on dreaming 🙂 Funny indeed… 🙂
This is a great dialog and there are many interesting points around the differences and similarities of mindfulness and meditation. The most profound thing they both have in common is non-judgement. As difficult as that is at times it will always prove to be worth the effort to dialog with yourself and come to that non-judging point before you express yourself to others. Not only are meditation and mindfulness intertwined but so are all of us – we need to recognize each others humanity.
The differences between “Mindfulness” and “Meditation” are as follows:
“MEDITATION” has been around in the East for roughly 5,000 years, and has been offered to anyone willing to practice it free of charge. Passed down from teacher to pupil at no expense to the latter. Done, primarily for spiritual development of the individuals concerned.
“MINDFULNESS” is the Western version of “MEDITATION”. Which has basically been stolen from the East, commercialized and then had a price tag attached to it, in order to sell something which was intended to be free in the first place. As with the practice of “YOGA” which also originated in the East, and was freely offered to anyone, has also been packaged by the West, then commercialized and sold for a price.
This way the West, ever greedy and out to make enormous profits, regardless of morals or any ethics whatsoever, has stolen both of these free offerings of the East and pumped them both out to make a profit. SUCH THIEVERY, IS ANYTHING BUT SPIRITUAL, AND IS AN ABSOLUTE INSULT TO THE EAST AND IT’S HIGHLY SPIRITUAL PEOPLES. ONES AGAIN, THE OBVIOUS GREED OF THE WEST HAS BECOME HIGHLY VISIBLE. TOTALLY DETRACTING FROM WHAT HAS BEEN FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, A HIGHLY SPIRITUAL AND INTENSELY SOUL-SEARCHING AND UPLIFTING, “FREE TO ALL”, PRACTICE. A TOTAL CORRUPTION OF THE WEST, IN ORDER TO PROFIT.
SADLY, THEY HAVE KILLED EVERYTHING SPIRITUAL ABOUT, BOTH, “YOGA” & “MEDITATION”, IN THE PROCESS.
FOR YOUR OWN SAKE, AND THE HEALTH OF YOUR OWN SPIRIT, REJECT THE WESTERN CORRUPTION OF THESE 2 DEEPLY SPIRITUAL PRACTICES, AND DO THE RIGHT, TRUE THING, AND FOLLOW THE EASTERN VERSIONS.
THE WEST MAKES ME SICK HOW THEY STEAL EVERYTHING DECENT FROM EVERYONE ELSE, IN ORDER TO TRY AND QUENCH THE NEVER-ENDING GREED AND TOTALLY BLACK UNSPIRITUAL DEAD SOULS OF THE WESTERN CORPORATE DEMONS! SO SAD AND PATHETIC!!!
“MINDFULNESS” AND “PHYSICAL YOGA” WAS NOT CREATED BY THE WEST! THEY’RE RIPPING IT OFF FROM THE EAST, AND TRYING TO SUCK EVERYONE INTO BELIEVING THAT IT IS A WESTERN DISCOVERY! FRAUDS, EVERY LAST ONE OF THE WESTERN FOR-PROFIT-PIGS!!
I totally ‘get’ where you’re coming from on this. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
If we step into our Soul-Shoes – as the Ancients advise – then, for me, what matters is that people all over the world are waking up to the spiritual side of their nature, in unprecedented numbers.
How they do it and which labels they give to their practices doesn’t matter to me.
What counts is that they are taking action to move from living in their heads, to living in their hearts. And I celebrate that.
On a side note, I suspect that people such as Thich Nhat Hanh might be surprised to hear that mindfulness is a recent Western invention 😉
Wishing you love and peace in your heart, Namaste,
Beautifully answered. Thank you for a simple explanation of a complex concept, mindfulness and meditation.
Thank you Victoria.
And isn’t it funny how easy it is to get caught up in the words, thereby missing the experience?
Happy to be able to help today.
There is nothing deeply spiritual about ALL CAPS!!
Thank you Clare, This was very helpful. I have recently formed a meditation group. All of my previous meditation experience has been for spiritual growth. Although most of us in the group are quite in agreement, I was very surprised when a new member and a regular meditator took exception when I talked about a Higher Power. She said she is an atheist and doesn’t believe in that. I wondered what her meditation is. Perhaps it is Mindfulness and she sees a separation.
Hi Linda – thanks for sharing this. It’s a great point. It’s amazing how different we all are!
For me, meditation is about connecting with my ‘real’ Self – the bit of me that is bigger than my fears and excuses and dramas – and getting back in alignment with my life’s path. It’s very spiritual, but definitely ‘part of me’, rather than an ‘external God’. Does that make sense?
For others it’s about de-stressing or mental clarity or calm or inner peace.
It’s one of the reasons I refuse to talk about how meditation feels in my books and courses until people have experienced it for a good few weeks – otherwise I’ll be limiting their experience of it, by over-laying my belief system onto their practice.
It could make an amazing discussion in your group – as long as it is handled in a totally open-minded no-one-tries-to-change-anyone-else’s-beliefs way.
Whether the ‘thing’ we’re connecting with in meditation and mindfulness is a ‘higher power’ or a ‘deeper self’, I strongly suspect that we’re really all aiming for the same thing. What do you reckon?
And, when we’re teaching, we also need to bear in mind that ‘mindfulness’, as taught by spiritual leaders like Thich Naht Hanh, is a deeply spiritual experience. It’s only us in the west who are trying to reach inner peace without reconnecting with our inner divinity. And that’s ok – everyone’s path is unique.
Loving this discussion thread!
Namaste, Clare x
I am currently teacher training and doing a presentation on children using meditation and mindfulness in school. I wondered where the quote above about meditation and mindfulness being like two strands of a rope came from as was going to use this in my Literature review and need to reference it. Your article really helped me get my head around the question of the difference between the two!
Glad to be of service.
The quote about meditation and mindfulness being like two strands of a rope is one of mine. You’re welcome to use it in your literature review and references.
Huge Gratitude to you for caring about children learning the vital life-skills of meditation and mindfulness, while you’re doing your teacher training.
I’d LOVE to hear how you get on! Are you part of our Soul-Sized Living online group yet? It’s a great way to stay connected – and it’s free http://www.ClareJosa.com/Soul-Sized-Living
(No pressure – just thought it might be fun to connect properly!)
That’s great thanks Clare, I will think about the online group, that sounds great. Is the quote from one of your books or just from this article? Have to get my referencing absolutely right! Many thanks
Sorry for the delayed reply – the quote is from this article – though it will probably go into the next edition of the 28 Day Meditation Challenge book.
Hope your project is a massive success, Katie!
Namaste, Clare x
I was wondering what program you chose to learn for meditation for children in schools. I am ready to do this myself but overwhelmed by the choices. I am so passionate about planting the seed for our young people. I am so very excited about what the future could hold by bringing these life skills to little people. The world is hungry for this. I want to be a part of it. I live in Michigan and would love to hear your opinions and any advice on teaching little ones and what program to lean toward. Thanks, Amy
I like the way you describe the difference between the two. I’ve recently started teaching as well, and I’ve been calling it ‘meditation’ as I look at many different techniques. I’ve been finding it tricky to work out how to describe the difference myself really and have been wondering if it is just all in the name. No-one else seems to describe as succinctly. Thank you!
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Susan – glad to be of service and happy to hear the article has helped 🙂
I hear so much in the media that ‘mindfulness’ is a non-spiritual form of meditation. I reckon Thich Nhat Hanh might have a point of view about that 😉
For me, by focusing on how the experience feels and how it can transform your life, the words simply melt away and, as you know, that’s where we want to get our students to. But for the purpose of letting people know aobut your classes, as you say, people need a ‘name’ for it.
Susan and Ben – if you’d like to post a link to your classes here, please feel free. xx Clare
Thanks Clare, that was the perfect overview. I’ve just started teaching meditation and mindfulness and your groundwork has helped convince me to call myself a mindfulness teacher rather than a meditation teacher. Cheers!
Thanks for the feedback Ben – and for taking the time to comment.
Out of interest, I call myself both. Because my classes include a longer period of meditation, as well as mindfulness techniques, I need people not to be surprised by that 😉
I’m curious: what kind of meditation do you teach?
I was wondering about creating an online directory of meditation teachers on the site. Do you think that might be useful?
Ben, Clare, and anyone else who is reading – this is exactly what commenter Ryan is talking about. Ben, you are full of shit and no one should give BEN IRVINE a cent of their earnings.
If you’re so concerned with marketing and profits Ben, get a job in the corporate world. Or have a conscience and call yourself a MEDITATION teacher, not the trendy moniker of MINDFULNESS teacher.
Anyone a brain will see you as a fraud.