Mindfulness vs. Meditation – What’s the Difference?
The words mindfulness and meditation may bring up similar images in your mind. Yet, they are quite different terms signifying unique practices or qualities.
The truth is that I rarely consider the differences. Recently, a few people have asked me about these two terms, which has led me to investigate the two more deeply. So, let’s look at mindfulness vs. meditation, and how the two interact.
Meditation is a rather vague term. Many different religious groups and traditions encourage meditation practices. Even among different types of Buddhism there are tons of forms of meditation.
In short, meditation is the act of dedicating mental energy to cultivating a specific state or quality. You may sit in a concentrative meditation, using the time to build the ability to focus. You may also practice meditation on a higher power, seeking to humble yourself to his/her/their will.
In the context of Buddhism and dharma, meditation is a tool to cultivate specific qualities. One of these qualities is mindfulness. Another is concentration. You may also sit in loving-kindness meditation to cultivate an open heart.
Meditation is a tool or practice. It’s most often done in a formal sitting practice. You can do walking meditation or practice while washing the dishes. What matters is that meditation is a dedicated period to cultivating a specific quality of mind or heart.
If you’re interested in learning about a few different types of meditation, you can read our post 17 Types of Meditation – Which One is For You? or check out our list of our favorite meditation books.
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What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a quality of mind. It is the quality of present-time awareness and recognition. With mindfulness, we recognize what is occurring in our present-time experience.
Mindfulness is not only about being present; it also requires a clear recognition of what we are experiencing. For example, mindfulness allows us to recognize that anxiety is present. It also helps us to recognize that aversion to the feeling will cause more suffering. We see the experience, how the mind wants to respond, and recognize compassion is a more useful response.
Unlike meditation, mindfulness is not limited to periods of dedicated practice. We can be mindful anywhere, anytime. It is a quality of mind we can bring to any activity. Whether it’s thinking, speaking, or acting, we can be mindful.
You can be mindful while you work, have a conversation, or drive. You can also be mindful when you meditate. Mindfulness is supported by meditation practice, but is not limited to periods of formal practice.
You can learn more about mindfulness in our post What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
One of the key differences between mindfulness and meditation is that meditation is an action, while mindfulness is a state of being or quality of mind. Considering mindfulness vs. meditation, it’s important to understand this. Meditation is the action of sitting down to practice, not a state of mind. You can meditate with an anxious mind, with a mindful awareness, or with sleepiness.
Mindfulness is not dependent upon what you are doing. As a state of being or awareness, you can compare it to sleepiness. You can be sleepy in bed, at work, or while driving. In the same way, you can be mindful anywhere.
Mindfulness is the quality of mind we are working to cultivate. Meditation is one of the tools to get there. That being said, mindfulness is also a tool. It’s a tool to see clearly, or with Wise View.
One of the most powerful ways to cultivate mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation. Although mindfulness is not meditation inherently, we can cultivate the quality through practice.
Here, it’s not a question of mindfulness vs. meditation, but a practice of using meditation for mindfulness. We are using the tool to cultivate the quality of awareness.
Like other forms of meditation and qualities of mind, it takes time to cultivate mindfulness. When we first learn to meditate and sit in practice, we aren’t magically mindful. Continuing to bring awareness to the present moment, we build the ability to be mindful.
There are many types of mindfulness meditation. The Buddha taught extensively about mindfulness, most notably in the Satipatthana Sutta. He spoke of mindfulness of the body, the breath, feeling tones, and much more.
Some common mindfulness meditation practices include:
-Mindfulness of breath
-Vipassana (or noting)
-Mindfulness of vedana
If you want to get started with mindfulness meditation, but are not sure where to begin, here are a few resources.
If you’re interested in starting a practice but don’t know where to begin, you can reach out to one of our mindfulness coaches to get some help!