Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Mindfulness versus Meditation
We often hear the expression to be mindful of something e.g. “be mindful of the traffic," but what is mindfulness and how is it different than meditation? We can define mindfulness as the state of being aware of what’s happening right now, in the present moment. If we are paying attention to the taste and texture of the food we eat as we eat it, we are being mindful of our food.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a structured practice we do to develop our ability to be mindful. When we meditate, we have an object or an anchor for our meditation such as our breath, a visualization, or something external like the flame of a candle, sounds or music. We focus our attention on the anchor and when we get distracted by thoughts, as is our nature, we notice this has happened and come back to the anchor. It’s important to be gentle with yourself at this point as it is normal and natural for the mind to be distracted.
Benefits of Meditation
There is studies-based evidence that meditation helps with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. How does it do this? At least one study suggests that meditation can change our brain activity.
Research at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin Madison compared brain scans of non-meditators, people with an 8-week meditation course, and long-term meditators while they were looking at emotional images. They found that in the brains of the meditators, whether new or seasoned, there was less activity in the amygdala of the brain. The amygdala is the part of the brain that scans the environment for danger and gets the body ready to respond to that danger through fight or flight. The new meditators had less amygdala activity in response to positive emotional images and the long-term meditators additionally had less activity in response to negative emotional images. The researchers said that meditation practice can decrease the extent to which emotional responses take us over.
My Experience with Meditation
I have been doing mindfulness meditation for over 20 years. I try to practice daily and my practice involves focusing on the breath or on visualizations. When I first started meditating, I was surprised at how active my mind was with its many thoughts and distractions. Many people I talk to believe that meditation is about not having thoughts but that is certainly not my experience. I stuck with my meditation practice because I found that it calmed me and helped me to focus.
Looking back to how I was before I started meditating, I can see how meditation has helped me. I am now more aware of what is happening in my body and with my emotions. I am more able to pay attention and stay with the present moment; to be truly present for someone or to really appreciate nature when out hiking for example. Very importantly for me, in my relationships I am more able to take a moment and think before reacting to something I don’t like. In other words, I am more often able to thoughtfully respond to a situation rather than impulsively reacting to it and doing something I might regret later.
Is Meditation for You?
Each person is unique and so is their experience of meditation. If you haven’t tried meditation you can decide for yourself whether you want to. It you’re interested, here is one of many online resources available https://www.mindful.org/category/meditation/
The work I do as a counsellor integrates mindfulness based tools. To learn more about me and my work, go to https://www.oceantidescounselling.ca/