What is Meditation?
Meditation is a technique that relaxes the body quickly and calms the mind. It involves two skills. The first is learning to relax quickly and consciously. The second is learning to pay attention and so control thought. Relaxation and attention work together. Focusing on the body relaxes it, and the act of focusing controls thought and calms the mind.
Meditation aims for a state of inner balance (homeostasis) in which the body and mind are as calm and passive as possible (body-mind stillness). It is not limited to a particular posture or period of time. A meditation can take place while sitting, walking, standing or lying down and it can last from a few seconds to an hour. Meditation is a flexible skill that enables us to quickly shed unnecessary tension, and to consciously relax to the optimal level of arousal and muscle-tone for whatever we are doing during the day.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the mental skill of attention. To be mindful means to pay attention, or to focus, or to hold something in mind. Mindfulness is a shift from automatic, reactive thought to conscious, directed thought. It implies seeing things clearly and accurately, which usually leads to a better outcome.
For example, if we become mindful of unnecessary tension or a useless thought or an emotional over-reaction, we can quickly adjust our response accordingly. Being mindful also improves our behaviour. It frequently operates a ‘Stop and look before you act’ technique.
The concept of ‘mindfulness’ as ‘attention’ goes back to the Buddha. Nowadays, the word also carries an entirely different meaning. This dates back forty years to the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) that spearheaded the popularity of mindfulness in the West.
MBSR uses the word ‘mindfulness’ to describe what its founder regarded as the ideal meditative ‘empty’ state of mind. This is commonly defined as: ‘a state of open, nonjudgmental acceptance.’ This formulation derives from the Zen practice called Shikantaza, which loosely translates as ‘Just Sitting, Not Thinking’.