When folks talk about mindfulness, I’m not always sure they know what they mean by the word.
In essence, mindfulness is the focus of your attention away from your thinking mind in the direction of your sensory awareness, whether it be a smell, a sound, a touch, or a taste.
Mindfulness can therefore last but a second as you appreciate that smell, or that taste, or you can lengthen it by really exploring your experience of the sound, or the feel of something in your hands.
At what point mindfulness becomes meditation is entirely subjective, but I like to describe mindfulness as that state of focused awareness of your senses in everyday living, whereas meditation is where you sit or lie down with the intention to spend a period of time in silence witnessing your own thoughts as well as your sensory perceptions.
Mindfulness and meditation are therefore the same thing – acting as a witness to, not a thinker or judge of, your thoughts and senses.
Mindfulness is something you can cultivate every moment of your waking day, whereas meditation is at a particular time you set aside to reside in silence.
Both are beneficial to mental health and wellbeing, although your perception of those benefits may be subtle and/or gradual as you practice either or both.
I have an incredibly busy, distractible mind and generally run around at 1000mph doing the shit I want to get done, done as quickly as possible.
I have to pro-actively slow myself down and REMIND myself to slower my walking pace and feel the ground beneath my footsteps, or take a deeper, more conscious breath and feel the air in my nostrils, or really sense the taste of the apple after I’ve taken a bite, feeling my teeth crunching through the fruit with the juices flowing on to my tongue.
The examples in the paragraph above are of mindfulness – they are mini-meditations that can pull you out of your head, and into your sensory awareness.
If you’re feeling anxious, they can bring you in to the PRESENT moment, rather than see you worrying about what might (or might not) happen in the NEXT one.
If you’re constantly ruminating on something, mindfulness can interrupt the circular thought patterns and give you some relief from your internal drama.
Mindfulness is therefore useful for short-term exits from your thinking mind, and regular practice (perhaps aided by an alarm on your phone or watch) can help calm your nervous system.
Meditation, on the other hand, in my experience leads to more subtly felt and ego-deflating benefits that take time to accumulate and therefore appreciate.
The cumulative effect of regular meditation has been, to me, a generally calmer demeanor overall, an appreciation that I have the ability to distance myself and detach from “my” thoughts, and a consequent lowering in my level of reactivity to what previously might have been labeled “dramatic” situations.
As a side benefit, it’s also just a really wonderful way to start your day, and I’ll go into some suggestions on how you might like to do that in the next blog post!
Stay Zen -
PS Drinking your daily cup of tea or coffee is an AWESOME way to cultivate mindfulness in your everyday life. We created some "Mindfulness Mugs" for that very reason!
“Hyper-aware” is how I would describe one state I get into when meditating. “Frustrated”, “annoyed” and most certainly “not zen”, depending on how busy my mind happens to be at the time I sit down, are other states I get into!