As a pretty high-strung individual, I have heard these terms “Mindfulness” and “Meditation” flowing from the mouths of doctors, psychologists, and well-meaning friends with a frequency that dulls them. They are passing concepts that have floated on my horizon but have never fully come into view or grasp for me. But I don’t really know what they even mean. Do you?
I want to understand what Mindfulness and meditation really are, the difference between the two, and how I can finally apply them to bring a heightened state of being into my life. I mean, that does sound pretty cool right?
As I sit here covered in blankets, healing from surgery, the downtime is droning and the pain is wearing me down. I could certainly use some kind of mental boost right now…there is no time like the present!
Let’s take Mindfulness first.
How do we define Mindfulness? Of course, depending on the source, it is defined in varying ways but this seems to be a good summary to me:
Mindfulness is a state of being fully present in the “now,” with a sense of acceptance of one’s surroundings, thoughts and feelings, without responsiveness or judgment. It is a state that can be obtained through various practices.¹
According to the American Psychological Association (APA.org, 2012), mindfulness is:
“…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”
— Positive Psychology, What Is the Meaning of Mindfulness?¹
Hm, I am not sure that clears it all up but after reading umpteen web articles, the sentiment from each is a version of the same “acceptance” and “awareness.”
So do you just sit there and decide to be aware? Ok, I may have to accept to have more questions than answers at the present time (see…I am already on board with this!) and continue to learn as I go. Perhaps it is better understood as one begins practicing, reads more about it, and learns by doing. At least, for this kind of thing, that would be my expectation. The mind is wonderfully powerful. I think practicing this could affect my mood and my chronic pain — so far, it sounds useful to me.
As a person raised in a Christian home, by loving parents and by the cultural norms of the “Bible Belt”, I received my Lion’s share of lessons regarding self-analysis, judgment, adherence to cultural, societal, and church norms, family tradition, and pressure to be a “good” person, usually as defined within the paradigm of those Protestant views. Therefore, the concept of Mindfulness, of accepting whatever thoughts and feelings are present, I must admit, sounds blissfully wonderful, yet moderately terrifying to me.
How can one practice this acceptance, if the thoughts and feelings are wrong? Wouldn’t this practice free me and others from the guilt-sin cycle that has been bearing down on us since I was old enough to carry my Bible to summer camp and read it under the blankets at night with my flashlight? (I never made it past Genesis in these early years — but I tried.) These are the very questions that have kept me from further exploring mindfulness in my life.
I like this statement by Eden Koz (Kozlowski), Founder of Just Be and contributor of an article to Huffpost called “Can Christians Practice Mindfulness?” : Mindfulness allows everyone to bask in his or her own faith, belief and wishes — it opens the door to acceptance. It allows us to see our humanity and the bigger picture things that connect us beyond our titles, beyond our outward appearance, beyond our philosophies and dogmas.²
From the Bhagavad Gita’s Hindu influence discussing yogic tradition and Vedic meditation, to the Buddha’s discovery of mindful practice through meditation, the concept of Mindfulness goes back thousands of years, but that is not to deny its roots in other major religions as well³. The concept became Westernized in the late 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, who developed an 8-week stress-reducing program aptly named Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which has since then gained popularity and the backing of scientific study.³
The Mindfulness trend of today still goes strong — further solidifying its effectiveness and validity as the current psychological tool for growth and healing that it is today. There is no doubt, this simple concept has big reach.
I have always been a very self-aware (not to be confused with self-absorbed) person, though not with this sense of “acceptance.” I look forward to further exploring Mindfulness as a way to take this natural tendency toward self-awareness and using it as a path to greater fulfillment and personal growth. And if I could use this as a way to accept physical pain in such a way that my stress reaction isn’t catalyzing it — even better!
Now, let’s consider Meditation
While Mindfulness is a state-of-being to strive for, with action attached to it, meditation is defined more as a set of techniques to attain the desired results, usually being a heightened state of being, mental, emotional, and cognitive discipline or clarity and focused attention.⁴ There are multiple ways to meditate and the techniques vary by practice.
Like Mindfulness, meditation began in the East, deeply rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism, but has been associated by some measure in nearly every religion including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, although it is widely practiced with no religious connection. Meditation is widely used in the psychology field as well. The purpose, religious undertones, and techniques of meditation also vary greatly from person to person.
I particularly like Kendra Cherry’s description of meditation in her article in Very Well Mind, entitled The Types and Benefits of Meditation. Cherry describes meditation beautifully with the metaphor of consciousness as a stream and meditation as a process of deliberate navigation of that stream.
Consciousness is often likened to a stream, shifting and changing smoothly as it passes over the terrain. Meditation is one deliberate means of changing the course of this stream, and in turn, altering how you perceive and respond to the world around you. — Cherry⁴
The Buddhist Centre website promises that with regular work and patience “nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energised states of mind” having a “transformative” effect on one’s life and how they perceive it.⁵
As with Mindfulness, there are concerns of how the basic concepts of meditation fit into the Christian paradigm, and although I did not find an overwhelming acceptance online supporting Christian meditation, there are some applications that have been adapted to Christianity with fundamental differences in theory.
The question was asked and answered on the All About Spirituality website:
There are two major differences, however, between traditional forms of meditation and Christian meditation.
* In traditional forms of meditation, the individual seeks to empty one’s self; in Christian meditation the believer seeks, rather, to be filled.
* In traditional meditation, the object is self, albeit the higher self, whereas in Christian meditation the object is God, who is high above all.⁶
The mind is such a complicated thing, and for some of us, navigating in there could be a terrifying and confusing place — so how is this done exactly? How does one move from one way of thinking to another, more deliberate way of thinking, because if it were terribly simple, wouldn’t we all be addiction-free, healthy-nuts with multiple college degrees?
Different Types of Meditation
As there are different ways to achieve and practice reaching a state of Mindfulness, there are many types of meditation, and often those types are divided into subtypes.
Medical News Today has a wonderful article that details 7 different types of meditation, explains a little about each, and gives the health benefits thought to be associated with each.⁷
The 7 different types of meditation detailed are:
- loving-kindness meditation
- Body scan or progressive relaxation
- mindfulness meditation
- breath awareness meditation
- Kundalini yoga
- Zen meditation
- Transcendental meditation
Given the health, emotional, psychological, cognitive and spiritual benefits of these two practices, both are worthy of consideration as one might consider adding a workout routine or making dietary adjustments to improve health and wellness. If there are religious concerns over the Eastern origins, there are resources to help adapt the practices to adhere to certain religious preferences.
I must say that when I’ve had them recommended to me by both my doctor and a counselor, I didn’t give it too much thought. After taking a little time with the research for this article, which I have done as I seek more options to improve my overall health, I consider both practices to be worthy of further exploration and perhaps implementation.
I have already begun to do short, guided meditations via a Chrome Extension and have experienced greater relaxation, some relief from pain during this healing time from my surgery, and a greater sense of control during a difficult time. I look forward to continuing along this path, and feel confident that I can do so without betraying my Christian roots.
Christina Ward is a writer and poet living in rural North Carolina. She is an avid lover of nature, kindness, and personal growth.
Editor, author, or compiler name (if available). Name of Site. Version number, Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available), URL, DOI or permalink. Date of access (if applicable).
- Moore. Positive Psychology, What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits (Incl. Psychology). June 4, 2019. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/, date of access June 23, 2019.
- Kozlowski, Eden. Positive Psychology, Can Christians Practice Mindfulness?. July 7, 2013. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/, date of access June 23, 2019.
- Fossas, Andres. Well Doing, The Basics of Mindfulness: Where Did it Come From? January 27, 2015. https://welldoing.org/article/basics-of-mindfulness-come-from, date of access June 23, 2019.
- Cherry, Kendra. Very Well Mind, The Types and Benefits of Meditation. May 29, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-meditation-2795927, date of access June 23, 2019.
- The Buddhist Centre. https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/what-meditation, date of access June 23, 2019.
- All About Spirituality, Christian Meditation. https://www.allaboutspirituality.org/christian-meditation-faq.htm, date of access June 23, 2019.
- Dubnis, Daniel. Medical News Today, What is the best type of meditation? December 22, 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320392.php, date of access June 23, 2019.