Meditation Versus Mindfulness
These days, the terms meditation and mindfulness are getting intertwined. Meditation has been around for thousands of years and was widely popularized in the West when The Beatles learned Transcendental Meditation in the 1960s. However, over the last few years, the term mindfulness has become widespread and is often confused with meditation. Certainly the two terms are interrelated, but there are differences.
The confusion starts with both words having multiple and overlapping definitions. So here’s a practical distinction:
- Meditation – A formal mental discipline traditionally undertaken for spiritual development but also practiced in the modern world for health benefits and stress reduction.
- Mindfulness – Any practice of mental awareness. In other words, for example, washing the dishes with mindfulness avoids breaking the china. Mindfulness can also be performed as a formal practice for spiritual growth and health benefits, which is where it overlaps with meditation.
For our purposes here, we will use the word meditation to refer to the formal mental discipline.
Many of you have already responded in your heads to the title of this chapter with, “But I can’t meditate!” You can—really! Your belief that you cannot is a mistake born as a result of misunderstanding what meditation is and how to do it. Stay with us!
Many people learn to meditate for a particular reason, but the potential benefits are many:
- Less emotional baggage; you will find it easier to deal with your stress and that of the other people around you. That includes fewer anxiety issues and reduced depression.
- A more balanced nervous system; it will bring extremes back toward the center. For example, high blood pressure can be lowered, low blood pressure can be raised. Extreme introverts can become more social, extreme extroverts may gradually become more circumspect.
- Better health; most health issues are stress related, so that as the stress falls away, your health will get better. Also, sleep patterns may improve.
- Increased intuition; by definition empaths have unusual abilities, and the likelihood is that you already have or suspect you have abilities beyond just being an empath. The more you meditate, the more those gifts will develop. Applying other exercises from this book will help you sharpen your skills.
Above all else, my advice to anyone is that meditation is the most important thing you can do for yourself and the people around you. By making your world better, you can also improve the quality of life for the people around you.
Let’s talk about three different kinds of mental processes:
- Contemplating – The process of contemplating is a relaxed awareness that lets the mind drift on various aspects of a topic. The attention floats on the surface of the mind.
- Concentrating – Concentration uses mental effort to either focus on a particular thought or empty the mind to nothingness. This emptying is what is often attempted by beginner meditators and quickly leads to frustration because it works against the nature of the mind. The Eastern term monkey mind describes the mind’s natural state of being unsettled, restless, and uncontrollable.
- Meditation – The easiest and most effective form of meditation is allowing the mind to transcend activity into a state of restful alertness. This state is sometimes talked about as a fourth state of consciousness, beyond the first three of sleeping, dreaming, and waking. Through effort, concentration works against the nature of the monkey mind. Meditation is about gently and effortlessly bringing the mind back to the point of focus.
Ideally, learn face-to-face from a teacher, and especially one who emphasizes meditation as an effortless technique rather than one of concentration and forcing the mind. Having been practicing transcendental meditation myself for forty years, it naturally has my highest regard. It is also one of the, if not the most, heavily scientifically researched meditation techniques in the world. I can also speak highly of the meditation technique taught by the Art of Living Foundation, which comes from the same Indian tradition. If neither of these options is available to you, there are many good Buddhist meditation teachers who teach for little to no fee. Just ensure that they come from an understanding of meditation without trying or effort. More on that in the tips below.
If you have to be self-taught, start off with these tips:
- Schedule Time
The benefits come from regular daily practice. Certainly meditate once a day minimum, ideally twice a day. If once, morning is best, before the rest of your day invades. If twice, then before eating your evening meal is good, so that the body is not digesting. Pick a specific time so your body can get used to the routine. Twenty minutes is great, but if you need to start off with even as little as five minutes, it is better to get into that routine every day than to meditate irregularly for longer. Meditating late in the day may be relaxing on some days, but it may also be enlivening on others, so you could be left feeling wide awake right before bedtime. Make sure you will be uninterrupted during your meditation so that you need not be concerned about distractions.
- Meditate Together
Practicing together will keep everyone on schedule better than meditating separately. Also, if you compare meditating on your own to meditating with others, you will quickly discover that your practice will be deeper with more people. If you can find a meditation group in your area where you can regularly meditate with other people, even better. The more, the merrier—literally! Remember, use group meditations to support your daily practice, not replace it.
- Sit Comfortably
Sitting is better than lying for meditation. The body is used to going to sleep when we lie with our eyes closed. With meditation, the intention is to go into that fourth state of consciousness, restful alertness. You may nevertheless fall asleep occasionally while sitting, especially when you are tired. You will find that your sleep during meditation has a different quality than regular nighttime sleep.
- IMPORTANT: Focus, Don’t Concentrate
The mind will get distracted. All you need to do is gently bring your attention back to the subject of your meditation. It’s like using vegetable dye to color a cloth. The dye will not bind at the first attempt, so it is part of the process to bleach the cloth in the sun. It takes many cycles of dying and bleaching for the color to hold fast. So it is with meditating properly: bring the mind into focus, allow the mind to drift, and repeat. Eventually, the qualities of deep meditation will set, like the colors of the cloth. So don’t worry about having thoughts. Do not try. Let it be . . . easy!
- Don’t Try, Don’t Expect, Don’t Empty the Mind
Meditation is a process, not a goal. When the mind wanders, which it does naturally, gently, and easily bring it back. Did you have a great experience in a previous meditation that you want to recreate? The one way to guarantee that it won’t happen is by trying to repeat it. The most common misconception about “right” meditation is the idea of emptying the mind and experiencing a profound quiet. NO! Expecting to empty the mind is trying to reach the goal without going through the process. Remember to be aware of the mind wandering, and simply bring your attention back to the point of focus each time. This is a skill. Be patient; the inner quiet will come with practice.
- Ideally, Stretch and Breathe Then Meditate
Stretching loosens the muscles and tendons, allowing you to sit more comfortably. It starts the process of “going inward” and brings added attention to the body. Deep breathing slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind, and readies the body for meditation. That said, if it is a matter of time, meditation is THE most important thing you can do for yourself.