Yes and no. Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness of our present moment experience. We can do this while we’re meditating, or at any time. Meditation comes in different varieties, but is generally an effort to hold our attention steadily on a single point of focus. All types of meditation require mindfulness, but mindfulness does not require meditation.
What Mindfulness Is
Mindfulness begins with paying attention to what’s going on right here and right now. When we’re mindful, we’re present. Our minds are addicted to movement and very easily distracted. Typically, while the body is in the present, the mind is in the past or in the future.
We’re least likely to be present, or mindful, when we’re doing a task that’s habitual, such as driving or brushing our teeth, or when we’re doing something that’s uninteresting to us. Once we start paying attention, we realize how often we’re not!
Mindfulness is not only paying attention, but paying attention in a particular way. When practicing mindfulness, we aim to pay attention without judgment. We bring an open curiosity to that which we notice, which allows us to notice more.
Judgment clouds our vision, it shuts us off to possibility because judgment comes from a mind that thinks it already knows things. To judge something as good or bad, for example, is to think we “know” that thing is good or bad. It’s difficult for our mind to change, even with ongoing observation.
When we pay attention with a quality of non-judgmental curiosity, we’re better able to notice the good, the bad, and everything in between. We may even notice that nothing exists in just one way.
What Meditation Is
Meditation is an act of contemplation or reflection. Many of us are meditating all the time. We meditate on our negative feelings, what our c-worker said last week, or on what we’ll say next time we see our ex boyfriend. Instead, we could choose to meditate on positive feelings like gratitude or compassion, or on something as simple as the breath.
When we meditate formally, we practice holding our attention on a single point of focus. This could be our breath, a sound, a photograph, or a mantra. By doing this, we train our distracted mind to become more still. In the process of trying, we learn about how our mind works and who we really are.
Meditation requires mindfulness. We must be mindful of our intention, mindful of when we’ve become distracted, and we must mindfully return to the object of our meditation as soon as we notice, without pausing to judge or self-criticize.
When people talk about mindfulness meditation, they are normally referring to any meditation practice based on being mindful of a single point of focus.
Once we get good at holding the mind focused, we might try other types of meditation which include contemplation, or simply resting in open awareness.
Why Meditate or Be Mindful?
Mindfulness and meditation both keep us rooted in the present moment. When we’re in the present moment, we’re better connected to reality. When firmly rooted in reality, we become less reactive and we’re likely to be more patient, kind and compassionate.
Mindfulness benefits us by deepening awareness of our inner critic, our thoughts and feelings, and our habitual behaviors. When we’re aware of these things, we realize that although they are part of us, they are not us. They are changeable.
By becoming better acquainted with the patterns of our own minds, and how changeable they are, we may realize others are changeable too. The people whom we’ve judged as being only one way start to change over time. The whole world begins to appear more spacious and full of potential.
How to Practice Mindfulness & Meditation
We can practice mindfulness at any time of day. We do this by single-tasking, and by paying attention. When we walk, we notice the walking. When we talk, we’re aware of what we’re saying. When we eat, we’re present with each of our senses and notice every little detail of how we perceive our food.
It’s easier to integrate mindfulness into everyday activities if we’re also doing the work to train the mind. A mind that’s practiced in focus and stillness is a mind that can be present even amidst the busy activity of our lives. A daily meditation practice supports our efforts in daily mindfulness by giving us a practice to integrate.
Mindfulness and meditation work beautifully together to help us live a life that’s healthier, happier, and more free.