Meditation vs. Mindfulness: What's the Difference Anyway?
a 24/7/365 application of meditation."
Whoa! What? Seriously? Meditating all day?
Yes, seriously. It may seem to some of you that this aphorism is asking too much of one individual or family. Modern life pushes and pulls us all in so many directions any given day, how on Earth could we possibly begin practicing meditation all day long? We'd never get anything done, there is no time for that... Or at least that's what some people think.
In practice it isn't as tall of an ask as it seems. I remember being in that place. At the beginning of my journey into yoga any major behavioral change seemed like a daunting unattainable task. Especially those you ask your family to join you in. My intention here is to break this tall order down into easily accessible components that anyone can follow.
Meditation is the cornerstone of any mindfulness practice and indeed that of a mindful lifestyle. It is a formal practice, usually between 15-45 minutes in length, in which the practitioner trains the mind to focus on, or let go of, sensory data and thought processes. It cultivates a hyper awareness for the present moment and all that it entails, both internally and externally. In other words, it allows you to witness thought processes and cycles, sounds, smells, and other sensations (from both internal and external sources) all at the same time.
Okay, that's great, but why do it?
Meditation allows you the opportunity to get inside your own mind and see what's really going on in there. Many of us believe we know our thoughts, our minds, our selves. Yet in reality we have just been living like robots accepting programming given to us by outside sources like parents, society, religion, school, teachers, mentors, etc. When was the last time you really had a hard look at all those rules and programs given to you by your upbringing? Or the things you latched onto in college? Do they help you be at peace? Do you wish to perpetuate them? Are they still you?
In this way, we can begin to train the brain to slow down and witness both internal and external events without getting drawn into the drama of them. This is the opportunity I speak of, when you go within and witness your conscious and subconscious thoughts you begin to see what really makes you tick. You begin to see the habits that exist. The thought processes that keep you from making the changes in life you want or need. You are able to ask yourself these questions and identify specific thought patterns that help or hinder you in your life goals, in being the person you want to be. With that knowledge you can begin to take action towards bringing the inner and outer worlds into sync. You begin to take more ownership of your programming.
As a bonus, knowing these aspects of yourself, being able to witness your shadow self and make changes to address it, breeds happiness inside you. Not the manic I just got off a roller-coaster I could cry and laugh at the same time kind of happy, the real kind. Stable happy. Perhaps this level of experience would be better explained by the word contentment. A state in which nothing needs to be added or subtracted for you to be at peace and access enjoyment on a whim. An acceptance of the moment as it is, with no need for modification, an acceptance of self and the path you are on to improve, or not, as the case may be. It is a wonderful place to be. Meditation helps you get and stay there consistently like no other practice I've tried.
The core differences between meditation and mindfulness are the duration and intensity. Whereas in meditation you sit or lie down and practice for a period of time (short and intense practice), in mindfulness you attempt to bring the same greater awareness to every moment of every day, as much as you can, ideally, forever. Hmm, still seems like a big ask...
Take an elite athlete for example. They have goals in fitness, levels of strength or endurance they would like to reach. To get there they know they need to train in those areas. Just like an elite athlete trains, so too does a mindfulness practitioner. They don't just go out trying to complete a 24 hour period of mindfulness on day one. They put in the work first, they train. To do this they begin with setting up a daily meditation practice.
With this core practice, this cornerstone, set in place, the practitioner then begins to work with little moments throughout the day. There are various methods to cultivate this that I will get into in a later article. For now, one example is to simply become aware of your breath at various moments throughout the day. When is it fast? When is it slow? How do you feel emotionally and physically at those times?
An example of a moment in which you might choose to use this simple practice is when you are about to cross a threshold to go inside or outside. Alternatively it could be when getting into or out of your car. Many people make little reminders of some sort, like a ribbon tied to the rearview mirror or post-its on the door to the garage. After a time you might find yourself choosing to practice without the reminders. Growing from there you might begin to spontaneously notice the times your breath quickens in pace throughout the day, or conversely times when you are at peace.
Many people have found deeper more peaceful relationships with spouses and the kids by simply instituting a family mindfulness practice. If this is something you are interested timing is an important component. Just as you want to start your new habit slowly, you also don't want to add levels of complexity right at first. Depending on your family situation when to add the kids or significant other can be seen as a milestone in your practice. If your spouse is interested already then go ahead and start together. If they are more reluctant then just start by yourself.
Once you've set your practice it is then time to invite your significant other to join you, if they chose. Remember they need to come to it on their own if it is going to be successful. In my experience, there are two keys needed to open this door: 1- be resolute with your own practice, as they see positive changes in you they will be more likely to give it a try; 2- be patient with them, keep inviting in a kind warm manner (never shame, pressure, or guilt).
When to involve the kids depends on your family situation and the interest level of your spouse. In a single parent household you can start working with your kids as soon as you feel your habit of practice is solid. More on habit setting can be found in the beginner article. In partnered households it is important that both partners be on the same page with regards to mindfulness and the kids. The best way to share it with them is for both parents to be modelling the desired behavior and habits. This means it's best for the parents to have a solid practice first. Short of that, even if your spouse chooses not to meditate or practice mindfulness they can still be supportive of your efforts to share it with the kids. Make sure you communicate your needs for support to your partner so that they can help you all succeed. With that ground work laid it is time to start practicing with the kids, in the near future I will be writing an article on ways to encourage mindfulness with kids in the future, so stay tuned for that.
The Bottom Line
A lifestyle of mindfulness will change your life for the better, no matter what your current state is. Meditation and mindfulness work hand-in-hand to give you ownership of your perceptions and behavior. If this sounds good to you, don't wait, get started today by checking out the links below.
Just as an elite athlete reaches their goal through smaller milestones in training, so too should anyone setting off to make lifestyle changes. There is a lot of documentation out there on the web about why small steps are the key to long term success and I urge you to check it out if your inner nerd, like mine, needs to know.
Any seasoned practitioner can tell you that the hardest part is just starting. The rest of the practice then flows naturally out of the beginner's momentum.
So, start small, take one step at a time and build up to your ideal slowly over a long duration. Build your meditation habit first, then add in daily mindful moments. Once you become fluid with one mindfulness practice you can begin to add another to the repertoire. Soon enough you'll have at your disposal an array of practices for any situation to help you drop into present moment awareness whenever you notice you've lost it.
For more information on getting started meditating check out these links:
Thank you for reading and jai bhagwan,