The Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation

People who suffer from anxiety, depression or unmanageable stress may have been recommended to try mindfulness or meditation.  As the terms become more popular, misinformation and lack of understanding of the core principals can lead some people to be disappointed in the results, and therefore sceptical of the practices1)Van Dam, Nicholas T., Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford D. Saron, Andrew Olendzki, Ted Meissner et al. “Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13, no. 1 (2018): 36-61..

While the two terms may seem interchangeable, even different terms for the same practice; they are actually very different, although symbiotic, in the sense that they nurture and support each other, but require different skills for each. Put simply, meditation is the practice of quiet, an inwards focus on “nothing”, and the practice of mindfulness is to be integrated fully in the present, in “something”. 

Mindfulness is an umbrella term used to illustrate many characteristics, practices and methods, largely defined in relation to a person’s abilities and capabilities for attention, awareness, memory and retention, acceptance and acumen2)Van Dam, Nicholas T., Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford D. Saron, Andrew Olendzki, Ted Meissner et al. “Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13, no. 1 (2018): 36-61., based on various lines of Buddhist ideology, ranging from over two thousand years ago3)Brown, Kirk Warren, Richard M. Ryan, and J. David Creswell. “Addressing fundamental questions about mindfulness.” Psychological Inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 272-281..

It has been thought to help people become “alive”, or to “turn up” to the present moment4)Hanh, Thich Nhat. The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Beacon Press, 2016., congruent to their internal processes and conditions5)Epstein, Mark. “Thoughts without a thinker: Buddhism and psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalytic review 82, no. 3 (1995): 391-406., and to become and maintain healthier lives, both physically and mentally6)Thondup, Tulku, and Harold Talbott. Masters of meditation and miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Vol. 6. Shambhala Publications, 1996.

To be mindful, individuals must be firmly attentive to the “here and now”7)Herndon, Felix. “Testing mindfulness with perceptual and cognitive factors: External vs. internal encoding, and the cognitive failures questionnaire.” Personality and Individual Differences 44, no. 1 (2008): 32-41. as opposed to being preoccupied with thoughts about the past or the future8)Ryan, Richard M., and Kirk Warren Brown. “Why we don’t need self-esteem: On fundamental needs, contingent love, and mindfulness.” Psychological inquiry 14, no. 1 (2003): 71-76. that may lead to making less favourable decisions based on distorted perceptions. 

For example, if I was running late to a meeting because I had slept badly and run out of the door without eating breakfast, I might be feeling stressed and short-tempered; to not be mindful in this circumstance would be to direct these feelings onto traffic, or my colleagues, instead of understanding the factors at play which are having a negative impact on my mood. Focussing on external events to the exclusion of internal processes, or vice versa, would constitute a lack of mindfulness9)Kotzé, Martina, and Petrus Nel. “The psychometric properties of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) as measures of mindfulness and their relationship with burnout and work engagement.” SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 42, no. 1 (2016): 1-11.. Mindfulness is not only able to help calm the feelings of stress I described in the example above, but there is also a wealth of evidence to suggest that mindfulness tends to increase physical and mental health, interpersonal relationship quality, and behavioural regulation10)Brown, Kirk Warren, Richard M. Ryan, and J. David Creswell. “Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects.” Psychological inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 211-237..

Mindfulness has been historically viewed as a state of consciousness cultivated through meditative practice11)Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation, by Edward Conze. G. Allen and Unwin, 1956. which highlights the origin of confusion between the ends and means. Contemporary therapeutic programmes have echoed this tradition, designed to develop mindfulness. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction12)Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “Full catastrophe living: The program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.” (1990): 264-273. and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy13)Teasdale, John D., Richard G. Moore, Hazel Hayhurst, Marie Pope, Susan Williams, and Zindel V. Segal. “Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: empirical evidence.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 70, no. 2 (2002): 275. include meditation sessions as central components of the program. Understanding the difference between meditation and mindfulness can be used to combat against what Nicholas Van Dam called in his paper, Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation, “replication crisis” in therapeutic practices, whereby practices become combined and diluted rather than integrated and enhanced14)Van Dam, Nicholas T., Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford D. Saron, Andrew Olendzki, Ted Meissner et al. “Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13, no. 1 (2018): 36-61.

Meditation, put simply, is the practice that allows us to access our feelings, and to therefore become mindful15)https://medium.com/thrive-global/mindfulness-meditation-whats-the-difference-852f5ef7ec1a – Accessed 14/10/2019

‘“Einstein said that we can’t solve our problems from the level of thinking that we were at when we created them,” says Marianne Williamson in the Unexpected Power of Mindfulness and Meditation. “A different level of thinking doesn’t mean just a different emphasis in our thinking, or a more loving kind of thinking. It means what he said, a different level of thinking, and, to me, that is what meditation is. Meditation changes us, as it returns us to our right mind.”16)https://medium.com/thrive-global/mindfulness-meditation-whats-the-difference-852f5ef7ec1a – Accessed 14/10/2019

As a condition, mindfulness is not a quality that some individuals have and others lack. Quite the opposite, states Jon Kabat Zin in his book “Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness17)Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. Hachette UK, 2005.. Kabat Zin believes that attaining a mindful state of consciousness is an intrinsic human function. His argument puts forward the idea that the majority of people are, or at the very least are sporadically mindful at one point or another. However, research indicates that, because of “dispositional tendencies”, some people may be in a mindful state of consciousness more often than others18)Baer, Ruth A. “Mindfulness, assessment, and transdiagnostic processes.” Psychological Inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 238-242.

These dispositional tendencies could be attachment disorders, experiences of trauma, addictions or more dynamic, transient factors such as blood sugar levels or time constraints; what appears clear from the research discussed, is that by using meditation as a tool to allow space for mindfulness to develop and become a state of being, it can be applied to an enormous scope of tendencies, factors and situations. To conclude, to understand how and when to use meditation and mindfulness as separate practices with their own processes, helps to harmonise rather than compromise the benefits. 

If you have a client, or know of someone who is struggling on their recovery journey, reach out to Khiron. We believe that we can stop the revolving door of treatment and misdiagnosis by providing effective residential and out-patient therapies for underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to effective, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 14. Van Dam, Nicholas T., Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford D. Saron, Andrew Olendzki, Ted Meissner et al. “Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13, no. 1 (2018): 36-61.
3. Brown, Kirk Warren, Richard M. Ryan, and J. David Creswell. “Addressing fundamental questions about mindfulness.” Psychological Inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 272-281.
4. Hanh, Thich Nhat. The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Beacon Press, 2016.
5. Epstein, Mark. “Thoughts without a thinker: Buddhism and psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalytic review 82, no. 3 (1995): 391-406.
6. Thondup, Tulku, and Harold Talbott. Masters of meditation and miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Vol. 6. Shambhala Publications, 1996.
7. Herndon, Felix. “Testing mindfulness with perceptual and cognitive factors: External vs. internal encoding, and the cognitive failures questionnaire.” Personality and Individual Differences 44, no. 1 (2008): 32-41.
8. Ryan, Richard M., and Kirk Warren Brown. “Why we don’t need self-esteem: On fundamental needs, contingent love, and mindfulness.” Psychological inquiry 14, no. 1 (2003): 71-76.
9. Kotzé, Martina, and Petrus Nel. “The psychometric properties of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) as measures of mindfulness and their relationship with burnout and work engagement.” SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 42, no. 1 (2016): 1-11.
10. Brown, Kirk Warren, Richard M. Ryan, and J. David Creswell. “Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects.” Psychological inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 211-237.
11. Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation, by Edward Conze. G. Allen and Unwin, 1956.
12. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “Full catastrophe living: The program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.” (1990): 264-273.
13. Teasdale, John D., Richard G. Moore, Hazel Hayhurst, Marie Pope, Susan Williams, and Zindel V. Segal. “Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: empirical evidence.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 70, no. 2 (2002): 275.
15, 16. https://medium.com/thrive-global/mindfulness-meditation-whats-the-difference-852f5ef7ec1a – Accessed 14/10/2019
17. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. Hachette UK, 2005.
18. Baer, Ruth A. “Mindfulness, assessment, and transdiagnostic processes.” Psychological Inquiry 18, no. 4 (2007): 238-242.

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