Last week at school my children started a project on Buddhism. They created a beautiful four-minute-long play explaining why Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) spent many hours meditating and teaching his philosophies. I giggled to myself when they relayed their stories because, of the six children involved, all bar one of the parents teaches some form of meditation and the children had not relayed this to their teacher.
Over the weekend this came up in a conversation with friends. We hypothesized that maybe meditation is so every day to our children they believe that every family spends time meditating. Or perhaps meditation is so popular that four in five adults view it as part of their work.
During this conversation, my friend told me about a corporation he knows that use meditation daily and instruct the staff to call it mindfulness, because meditation is too wishy-washy. This encouraged me to write about the difference between meditation and mindfulness.
Mindfulness is said to improve wellbeing, physical health, and mental health. Mindfulness is a way of living that is a sustained state of being. To live mindfully is to live in the present, with a focus on what is happening in the moment. Fully aware of your own thoughts and feelings without judgement or distraction.
In Buddhism there are five spiritual faculties known as indriyas.
In his translation of the the Buddah’s works (The Pali Canon), T.W. Rhys Davids chose to create a noun from the adjective mindful and translate sati to mindfulness.
In 1979 the zen practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR). Zen and Buddhism are different schools of thought and Kabat-Zinn uses mindfulness to define the empty state achieved through zen meditation. A state in which the mind remains alert but unengaged. He believes mindfulness to be a position of open, non-judgmental acceptance developed through meditation.
The Buddha did not correlate mindfulness to a formal meditation practice. He viewed it as a state of mind that should evolve all day, every day, in any activity. Whilst Buddha did advocate formal meditation, he believed that one can use meditation when engaged in an activity also. The Satipatthana Sutta is a text that descends directly from Buddha and is the fullest description of mindfulness and how to achieve a mindful mind. The book offers 13 types of exercise designed to help observe, the body, emotions, states of mind and thought.
Kabat-Zinn believes the wisdom to be inside of us rather than seeking to someone else for guidance. Kabat-Zinn uses his MBSR to heal, through the research that has shown the positive effect of mindfulness practice on ailments and life. His view is that mindfulness is about relationality. He focuses on the five senses alongside the senses not taught in school, proprioception, enteroception and the Buddhist indriya, awareness. Kabat-Zinn gives a working definition of mindfulness as
“the awareness that arises by paying attention in the present moment, non-judgementally”
He believes we achieve this through the previously mentioned senses. Because we continuously scan the world for something more interesting, through our intrigue, we fail to live in the moment. We continuously distract ourselves and miss the only moment we are alive. With stress considered by some a disease of thinking we can heal it by using attention with intention. The awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, with an awareness of judgements, gives the ability to not believe the judgements, using discernment to open doors everywhere and feel liberated enough be our authentic selves.
So, you see mindfulness is a state of being often achieved through meditation, it is not meditation itself. The roots of meditation can be found in the Hindu religion.
Below are three simple mindfulness techniques to reduce the stress in your life, raise your awareness and begin your mindful way of living today.
Meditation is an exercise that starts and finishes. There are a number of different meditations that you can incorporate into your life. A simple breathing meditation focuses on your breath. You can start by making yourself comfortable. The straight back crossed leg position that we associate with meditation is unnecessary however the straight back will keep you alert. Take a moment, with your eyes closed to relax the muscles of your body. Move your head slowly from side to side and roll your shoulders back and down.
Without trying to change it, observe your breathing. Notice how your breath travels in and out of your body. Notice how your body breathes, trust in your body’s ability to know how much air it needs. As you notice your mind wandering, simply bring it back to your breathing. Use all of your senses to observe your breathing. As you become more familiar with the awareness of your breathing you can expand to an awareness of other aspects of you. This awareness can swell out into your everyday life, so you move from a mindless default mode to a mindful, aware state of mind.
The Five Senses
This exercise is a great for grounding, especially if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety. Grounding pulls your mind away from thoughts emotions to help you refocus on the present, allowing you to feel calmer and more in control.
Notice five things that you can see, four things that you can feel (physically, such as the texture of the top that you are wearing or the wall in front of you), listen and observe three things that you can hear, nothing two things that you can smell and lastly one thing that you can taste.
Choose something that you do every day, something as simple as opening a particular door or cleaning your teeth. As you begin your chosen activity become vividly aware. Notice what it is like when you move towards the thing you are about to do. How do you feel? Notice the step you take? At first touch notice the sensations. What does the item in your hand feel like? Notice the texture, the temperature, the weight. Is there a noise or smell? Continue with the same awareness as you go through the process. The more you apply this process the more practised you will become at remaining in the moment and aware.