Meditation and mindfulness, are they different?
Both require and subscribe to a higher level of awareness that leads to peace of mind and a sense of calm. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are also similar: lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress, lower anxiety and an increased level of patience just to name a few. While both practices provide an incredible amount of physical and mental health benefits, meditation touches on something bigger – your spiritual well-being.
The largest component and task of Mindfulness is being present. What does that mean? It suggests that as I type this article, I notice my fingers moving across the keys. I feel how my body responds and changes with my posture. My mind is completely activated in what I am doing at this present moment. There is no thought or attention on what the rest of my day looks like, nor is there thought about the past actions in my life that lead me to this place – sitting at my computer and sharing what I have found helpful in deepening a meditation practice.
Mindfulness works. By works I mean it provides the mental and health benefits described above, simply because if forces us to be here. Here, in the present, there is less anxiety and stress. Why? Because stress and anxiety are generally derived from one of two things: fear about the future or trauma from the past. It’s typically this future fear and past trauma that steals joy and happiness from your present moment.
So in your present or while practicing mindfulness, as you're focused on what you're doing with incredible detail and attention, you're training negative thoughts and subsequent feelings to not creep in and take your attention. In mentally shifting your focus onto the present, your mind is then allowed room for contentment and peace. As I type I notice that my face is light and carefree right now. I am presently enjoying what I’m doing. The sensation of typing is fun for me and reminds me of a game. How fast I can press the keys and find the words to express my thoughts gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment.
NOW IMAGINE BEING MINDFUL OR PRESENT ALL OF THE TIME!
Fear and trauma fade, and can no longer penetrate the mind because those things are in the past as merely a memory, or in a non-conceived future, while you – you are here in the now. In the now, they have little or no space to cause that stress, anxiety, fear etc. and your body responds in-kind. Without stress and anxiety, you’ll find lower blood pressure on a physical level. On the mental level, less stress and anxiety allow more room for contentment and joy.
It seems so simple but for those of you that have tried being hyper aware, all of the time, it is not that easy. As exciting as typing can be, or say, drinking a glass of water is refreshing, I can assure you there are more exciting things to occupy the mind! Being mindful requires a constant check on yourself, “Am I focused in the right now, or has my mind wandered?” Like anything, it gets better with practice.
And while the benefits of being mindful have an incredibly beneficial effect on your mood, your mind, and your health, the root causes of that stress, anxiety, fear and trauma aren’t necessarily being attended to. In de-focusing on the minds ills, we do make them smaller and less able to affect our day-to-day. However, mindfulness doesn’t clear away these issues permanently. This is where meditation steps in and can have a profound effect on addressing the underlying cause of the problem, rather than only isolating the symptoms.
Many people, including myself, believe that spiritual issues are the underlying cause of hurt, pain, guilt, etc. This may seem farfetched to some, but C.S. Lewis may have said it best:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” "No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument: it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion... it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul."
Chapter 6, The Problem of Pain
If you take away the religious context, the passage suggests that pain (a misnomer for guilt, shame, and generally all negative feelings) is a catalyst for introspection and inner evaluation. Finding something unpleasant within us, forces us to look deeper into the source of that conflict and begin to take the necessary steps to correct it.
Meditation is that necessary step for introspection and inner evaluation. During a meditation practice you are consciously making a choice to sit and listen. In that push to quiet the mind, or at the very least slow down thoughts, the very thoughts hindering that process become clearer and take more shape. Once they are uncovered, they can then be evaluated more clearly to be resolved.
For example, during my last sit in silence, right as I’m trying to clear my mind I noticed my thoughts consistently moving back to “I really need to start writing that blog post for the BLACK ZEN website.” In that silent time I was able to evaluate the bigger questions associated with this seemingly simple writing task. “Why is writing this blog so important?” “What is the underlying drive to complete it?” “If I don’t complete it, how does that affect my success as a content provider?” “Why is that success important?" I answered this one – “Success affects my livelihood and well-being.” And down the rabbit hole it went until voila! The real issue was revealed. If you didn’t see it coming (as I certainly didn’t), it was fear of not being able to support myself financially.
FINDING THE UNDERLYING ISSUE WAS THE KEY TO CHANGING THIS NEGATIVE MINDSET THAT WAS DISRUPTING MY PEACE, NOT ONLY IN MY MEDITATION PRACTICE BUT IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD AS WELL.
You can’t fight what you don’t see. It’s meditation, and not just mindfulness, that allows you to dive in and investigate the true cause of negativity that hinders growth.
I agree with C.S. Lewis that pain, or in this case mental discomfort, as a catalyst for change is a non-fun way to spur inner reflection but it’s effectiveness is undeniable. When things are going well, it’s generally from an outwardly or worldly sense of accomplishments (i.e. a new relationship or a new job that creates happiness in our meantime). But therein lies the problem, it’s in the meantime, which does not last.
Where then is the permanent peace, joy and contentment? Searching inwardly is the best place to start looking for it and meditation is the best tool we have at our disposal to start digging. Meditation is the focus on this inner world. It rests on the idea that transforming your mind is necessary to obtain genuine, non-conditional peace and happiness.
Based on my own meditation practice, I’d have to agree. So while mindfulness creates the space in your mind for happiness and joy now, with meditation there is an opportunity for happiness and joy outside of circumstances. It is the slight difference between a state of mind and a state of being.
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