Meditation vs Mindfulness – What Is the Difference?

(pic Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka)

 

Meditation vs Mindfulness – What Is the Difference?

Is anyone else guilty of vaguely agreeing to participate in a mindfulness or meditation session without really being clear on what they’re getting themselves in for? Even after it’s over? I know I am.
Surely it’s all the same, wishy-washy, inhale-exhale, breath-through-your-third-eye kind of stuff, right?
Wrong.

While both meditation and mindfulness stem from the same flowerbed, each complimenting the other and each a tool for focusing the mind and creating space for our authenticity to grow and manifest itself out into the world around us, there are several fundamental differences between the processes involved.

Meditation

I have to be careful here. I don’t want to delve too deep and scare people away.
While meditation has been defined and redefined over centuries and by a vast number of religious groups and otherwise inclined practices, its premise has fundamentally remained the same.
In simple terms, meditation is the art of sitting with our breath; with a certain thought; with a particular occurrence or sensation, and focusing all of our attention and energy towards it. That’s it. The one thought, thing or sensation, and all attention and awareness, including breath, is focused there. Gradually, somewhere in the midst of this blurb of directed consciousness, that one thing merges with the awareness and we’re left with a beautiful sense of unity and ability to relate whole-heartedly to the object of our meditation, as if it is part of us.

This has led to the establishment of the likes of breath meditation, chakra meditation, guided meditation (where all attention is focused on the guiding words), heartbeat meditation, visualization, kundalini meditation, walking meditation, samskara meditation, pranic (energetic) meditation, intention meditation…the list goes on, and it will forever. As long as humans can consciously think for themselves.
The central idea being that all of this conscious energy and attention is directed towards that one thing, without straying to follow any shiny new thoughts or enticing smells that may pass seductively through our brains in the meantime.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, admittedly, a branch of meditation. Yet while we still engage that same focus and intention as with general meditation, instead of a single chosen action, thought or sensation, mindfulness requires us to focus all our attention on the moment as it is right now. On our current set of emotions, sensations, actions and circumstances. The present moment, any current physical or mental sensations which we may be experiencing.
A lot of mindfulness comes down to the present experience. In fact, all of it does. How much of something are we really experiencing if our mind is off meditating on something that happened a week ago?

Let That Shit Go

This is where the core difference between mindfulness and meditation comes into play – the ability to differentiate between the present moment, the body and minds current situation, and any thoughts which may be hindering that by not being entirely relevant to what’s happening right now. All of this, along with the ability to let them go.
In order to focus properly on what’s happening right now, we have to be able to put our fingers obediently on the lips of any incessant thoughts persisting from elsewhere, and draw the attention back to the present moment.

A fairly simple explanation of my understanding of the differences between these two practices, yet in reality this simplicity and ease of mental activity is exactly what we seek to embody by practicing meditation of mindfulness. Simples.

 

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Angkor Wat, Nov 2015

 

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala