Meditation…versus Mindfulness

What’s the difference? What are the benefits?

The terms “meditation” and “mindfulness” are closely related.

Meditation refers to a practice. For instance, a simple “breath meditation” would consist of sitting quietly, in an alert but relaxed posture, and following the breath, in and out, in and out. I said simple but it’s really not so simple. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how “jumpy” even a mind at rest can be. The slightest sound from an adjacent room will inevitably draw attention. Even in a completely silent space the mind—against its own will—will jump from one random thought to another. Things to do. Things we should have done. Things we did and regret having done.

But with practice, one can learn to allow sustained attention to rest on an object of choice (such as the breath, a candle, the feeling of our feet walking). Learning to control our mind in this way, learning this self-mastery, is learning at the same time how to be less reactive, how to be less prone to the so–called “fight-or-flight” response. Meditation allows us to be calmer, more reflective, more capable of choosing how we wish to be in any given situation.  

Mindfulness, on the other hand, refers to a way of being in the world. It’s what we do when we get up from our meditation practice. If meditation is done with eyes closed—as it often, but not always is (viz. candle and walking meditations)—mindfulness is done with eyes open. One can wash the dishes with mindfulness if one is paying alert but relaxed attention to the sensations of soft soap, warm water, hard plate, etc. One can rake leaves with mindfulness. Any simple, repetitive task can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness. More challenging are the unpredictable and unwelcome moments—the car breaks down, children melt-down, we receive bad news. Can we pay attention to the sensations arising within us at those moments and try simply to note them—“anger” “irritation” “fear” “anxiety”—without reacting impulsively? That’s mindfulness.

Much has been written about the physical and psychological benefits of meditation and mindfulness. The pioneer in establishing the mind-body connection, Robert Ader, died just last week. According to his obituary in The New York Times Ader was credited with being the one to first establish some of the benefits of meditation—"once considered magical thinking”—including reduction in arterial plaque.

You can read much more about the benefits of meditation on line. To start, here are a couple of short articles, one From Psychology Today and the other from MIT.

And what have your experiences with mindfulness/meditation been?

Your reflections are welcome! Please LEAVE A COMMENT below.

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue—with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester. Read The New York Times  article. Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public. Everyone—without exception—is welcome and warmly invited.

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