A student at last Saturday’s workshop asked this question. It comes up in every class I teach, and it’s a good one. The short answer is, “it depends” – on who you ask, how you define mindfulness, and what you mean by meditation. I used to give a longer, rather convoluted answer; but now I simply draw two overlapping circles on the whiteboard.

Vdiagram_mindful_meditationI can’t remember when I first saw this diagram, but it’s been circulating on social media and Google images for some time. My imperfect memory recalls that it comes from from a lecture that Jon Kabat-Zinn gave in 2008. Or it may have originated here: http://crimlawdoc.typepad.com/kc_mindfulness/min.html

Mindfulness is easier to learn than meditation, and requires no special training or equipment. It simply means paying full attention to what is happening in the present moment. We can practice mindfulness throughout the day, whenever we step out of our usual autopilot mode to become aware of the present moment as it is unfolding around us, and simply observe what is happening without judgment. This may involve mindfully eating, or being tuned in with all of your senses to the experience of taking a shower, making coffee, cutting vegetables, or driving.

Meditation is a more deliberate discipline, which involves intentionally focusing your attention, and working with your wandering mind and restless body, over a period of time dedicated to just that. There are many different kinds of meditation, which come from different spiritual traditions. Some forms of meditation involve chanting a mantra, and some going into a trance state, or having an out-of-body experience. Practitioners of transcendental meditation (TM), describe being “in the zone,” where your mind is clear of thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation is actually about being in your body, fully grounded in the reality of the present. It’s adapted from a Buddhist practice called vipassana, which translates as “clear seeing,” and is also known as Insight Meditation. Rather than trying to empty the mind of thoughts, the idea is not to stop thinking (which is in fact impossible if you’re awake) but instead to learn to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. Usually practiced in silence, we may focus our attention on the breath, as it moves in and out of the body, or narrow the focus to one point where we feel the sensations of breathing most vividly, or widen our focal lens to take in everything that is present in our field of awareness: breath, sounds, thoughts, emotions and so on.

We can practice mindfulness meditation sitting down, lying down, standing, or walking. Some typical mindfulness meditation practices we teach are the Body Scan, and Awareness of Breath. Mindfulness meditation is not difficult to learn, but like nearly everything else in life, it requires practice to master. Taking a six- to eight-week class has been shown to be one of the best ways to learn mindfulness meditation, though you can certainly practice on your own via a variety of phone apps, YouTube videos, books, and CDs of guided meditation practices. If you’re interested in a class or would like to learn more, please contact me!