Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Actual Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation

difference between mindfulness and meditation
Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation, you may ask?

I know, it can be confusing since we often hear the terms mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, mindfulness-based meditation, or just meditation used interchangeably.

But, are they really all the same?  This is what I like to cover in this blog, starting with the definition of mindfulness and its benefits.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply to be fully aware of, and to accept, the present moment as it is.  We do this by paying attention to, or by being mindful of, whatever is going on right at this moment; either within us or around us. 

Mindfulness is not about body sensations, thoughts, or emotions but about being present.  We use our body sensations, or our external or internal experiences, only to bring the mind to the present moment.  

When we practice mindfulness we avoid reacting negatively or positively to whatever the present moment is bringing us.  Without getting attached to it or without experiencing aversion towards it, we simply welcome it.  

That's what I meant by “accepting the present moment, as it is.” 

Like I wrote before in Releasing Physical or Emotional Pain (Free Guided Meditation), the moment we react to what is going on in the present we escape the present and move either to the past or the future.  To be able to be present we have to welcome the present fully. 

Even our emotional reactions can be the focus of our mindful awareness.  

If we are experiencing a negative emotion that arises due to a particular situation, we simply observe that emotion without reacting to it, creating some space between us and the emotion.

To give you another definition, here is how Headspace defines mindfulness

“Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.”

You'll often hear the words, “without judgment” or “non-judgementally” whenever someone is defining mindfulness.  

This is just another way to express what I mentioned before.  We avoid judging or interpreting the present as right or wrong, good or bad.  We simply observe it and accept it as it comes. 

And here is a beautiful definition given by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.”

This is probably my favorite definition because it doesn't use any jargon and instead, it focuses on the essence of mindfulness.

What is the benefit of mindfulness?

So, what is the benefit of mindfulness? Or why should we bother to try to be mindful and aware of the present moment?

This article published by the American Psychological Association lists several benefits such as reduced rumination, stress reduction, more satisfaction in relationships, better focus, improved working memory, and more.   This other article from PositivePsycology lists 23 benefits!

I think it's alright to want to know about all these benefits.  But this is all just information for the intellect.  I rather keep it simple and focus on what really matters.  In my opinion, the real reason why we should practice mindfulness is this:  

True happiness is experienced only in the present, not in the past nor in the future.  

Worry, stress, anxiety, depression, and so on happen only when we are thinking about the past or the future, or when we are judging, resisting, or trying to escape the present.  

On the other side, when we become present we stop being disturbed by the constant chatter in our heads, our negative thinking, and the mental stories that we create constantly.  Instead, there is just our own pure presence.  

This pure presence is joy itself, it is happiness itself.  

When we are present we rest in our own awareness.  We become an observer, unaffected by the ups and downs of life.  There is no resistance or struggle anymore.  We simply are, and we flow with the moment.  

All other benefits mentioned in the articles above are simply side effects of living in the present moment.  

But I would still like to mention a few other reasons why we should practice mindfulness.

For instance, since the mind is constantly distracted and scattered, worried, and in a hurry, we sometimes miss precious moments in our lives.  Don't you think so?

With a calm and present mind, however, we become aware of things that we normally wouldn't become aware of.  In this way, we become not only more present with ourselves but also with those around us.

And the more present we become the slower times moves.  

Do you ever have the feeling that time is passing by too quick?  I know I have.  Sometimes it feels as if a whole year has passed by in just a few months!  

But when we become truly present time actually slows down; or at least our experience of time does.  This leads to a sense of inner joy and content that seems to come from nowhere.  

With a calm and present mind, we can also experience more mental clarity and energy.  This mental clarity and energy can be used to be more creative and productive, to live life more fully, or to go deeper into meditation.  

With mindfulness, we also let go and detach from the things that give only temporary happiness, and focus on what really matters.  The here and now.

What is mindfulness meditation?

We can be mindful of any external or internal experiences during our day.  We can practice mindfulness while working out, while cooking, while doing the laundry, while commuting, or even while sitting at our desks doing our work.  

All we have to do is to pay attention to what we are doing, what we are experiencing, or what we are feeling, without judging the experience.  
But, because of our lack of practice and because of the nature of our distracted minds, it is not very easy to be mindful during our day-to-day activities.  We might be able to do it only occasionally and for brief moments of time.

So instead of hoping that we might be able to be mindful during the day, we can choose to develop this skill consciously by practicing it regularly for a certain period of time.  

This is mindfulness meditation, also called mindfulness-based meditation or simply meditation.  Mindfulness meditation is what we do when we sit down specifically to practice and develop mindfulness.

It's that simple.  There is nothing more to add to it.

I like how Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, describes it in his book The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness 

“Meditation is simply a technique to provide you with the optimum conditions for practicing the skill of mindfulness.” 

“You can use it [mindfulness] in any situation and for any purpose, but the easiest place to learn the skill of mindfulness is during meditation.”


What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

So, in this case, the difference between mindfulness and meditation is that mindfulness is an attitude that we can apply to every moment of our daily lives. Meditation, on the other side, is that specific moment when we sit down to practice and develop the skill of mindfulness.

However, this applies only when comparing mindfulness to mindfulness-based meditation.  

Although it is correct to say that mindfulness-based meditation is meditation, not all forms of meditation are mindfulness-based meditation.  

Let me give you a few examples.  

Loving-kindness meditation, also a Buddhist practice, has nothing to do with mindfulness.  In this practice instead, we create a mental image that helps us develop and cultivate the feeling of loving-kindness to ourselves and to others.

Vedantic meditation has also nothing to do with being aware of the present.  This is a contemplative practice where we try to change our perspective to see reality for what it really is and not for what we believe it to be. 

Mantra meditation has little to do with being aware of the present moment.  It does involve mindfulness at the initial stages.  But the aim is to make the mind so one-pointed that it eventually becomes as if inactive.   Without the disturbances created by the mind, we are then able to rest on our true selves.  The present is not relevant anymore because we go beyond time, space and causation.  

What is the difference between concentrative meditation and mindfulness-based meditation?

To make it easier let's focus on the most common meditation technique taught in the tradition of the Indian yogis. That is concentration-based meditation.  

In concentration-based meditation, such as mantra meditation, we follow a systematic process to narrow down our awareness, focusing our attention fully on one particular object.  As the concentration deepens we naturally fall into a state of meditation.  

This particular object can be anything but it is usually the breath, an energy center in the body, a particular mantra, or a combination of all of these.

So, what is the difference between mindfulness meditation and concentrative meditation?  

In mindfulness meditation the awareness is broad.  We can even direct our awareness in all directions and use all our senses simultaneously, as long as we are paying attention to the present moment.

In concentration meditation, the awareness is narrowed down and made one-pointed.  It is not mindfulness. It is concentration.  

But in concentration-based meditation, such as mantra meditation, we do have to start with mindfulness.  We start from our normal state of awareness, a broad awareness, and gradually narrow down that awareness until it becomes one-pointed.

Even if we are fully focused on our chosen object of concentration, in the background of our mind we are still practicing mindfulness.  

On one level the object of concentration is occupying entirely our mind, on another level, we are paying attention to intruding thoughts, or mental impressions, that might arise and distract us from our meditation.

But that's for another discussion.


Mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment, as it is.  Mindfulness meditation is what we do when we sit down specifically to practice and develop the skill of mindfulness.  

But although all forms of mindfulness meditation are meditation, not all forms of meditation can be called mindfulness meditation.  

If we compare mindfulness meditation with concentrative meditation, then the difference is that in mindfulness the awareness is broad.  In concentrative meditation the awareness is one-pointed.  

The aim of mindfulness meditation is to be present.  The aim of concentrative meditation is to go beyond time.  

More about mindfulness

Here are some other articles I've published before related to mindfulness meditation.  I'm sure you'll find interesting

You can also visit my free guided meditations library.  And if you are interested, you can get access to the meditation scripts on my Patreon page.  

I hope you'll find this blog informative and inspiring.  If you like this type of content and if you like to be informed about my online yoga classes make sure you subscribe to my mailing list here.   

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  1. Excellent post! Thank you very much! So, Is Vipassana a mindfulness-meditation?

    1. Hi Maru, thank you! I'm happy to know you liked it. From my brief experience with Vipassana (I have done only one retreat so far) I would say that it's emphasis is on realizing impermanence and to remain detached from our worldly experiences. Although it uses body sensations, it is not so much about being present. I actually like to say that it is a form of pranayama. As you focus on the body sensations, scanning the body up and down, making sure that you experience those sensations in every part of the body, ultimately the prāṇa is moving and removing blockages which is a form of physical and mental purification. But that's just my opinion.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Reminds me to practise mindfulness more mindfully :)

  3. Nice Article !
    You have written it mindfully :)

    Thanks for sharing !

  4. "Well said about the difference between mindfulness and mediation. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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