Meditation and Mindfulness
“Let go of your mind and then be mindful, close your ears and listen”- Rumi
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would would be of the wrong thing; there is yet faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”- T.S Eliot
The modern western world is beginning to wake up to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Thanks to the evidence collected from the substantial body of recent scientific research , meditation and mindfulness have become fashionable pass times and with increased media attention, many more people are being drawn to find out more about how they could personally benefit.
The benefits are wide ranging and the people practising are diverse. From people using it to help maximise efficiency and create a healthy work environment for their employees, (Corporate use of meditation) to substance abusers, criminals, women during pregnancy and school children, to name just a few.
What's the difference?
But still many of us are not quite sure what the difference is between mindfulness and meditation, or exactly what either of them involve. Mindfulness is paying attention “on purpose” it is being conscious of where your attention is.
Here is a simple way to remember how to practice basic mindfulness, which was created by a group of Buddhist teachers about thirteen years ago, it is called the RAIN practice:
R = Recognise when an emotion or sensation is present
A = Allow or acknowledge that you are feeling it
I = Investigate the experience with kindness
N = Non-identification with the thought or sensation
The convenient thing about mindfulness (as opposed to meditation) is that it can be done whilst walking, washing up or driving ,basically any physical activity where you are able to totally focus on the physical aspect of what you are doing and allow any thoughts to arise and then pass. For instance whilst walking along the pavement, you might become aware of a breeze on your skin, you might smell bushes, flowers or even car exhaust fumes, you can be conscious of the feeling on the soles of your feet as each one touches the ground and then is lifted up again. You will be aware of what you are seeing and hearing and of any thoughts or feelings about any of these senses which you are experiencing and then just allow them to be, without judging them. You can say to yourself, that is a happy thought, that is a worried thought, or that is an angry thought. Then bring your attention back to your senses whilst remembering that your thoughts are passing through you, they are not you. The fact that you can practice it whilst doing simple activities, means that mindfulness can be woven into a busy modern life, to help deal with the fast pace at which many of us have to live our lives, even if you don't have time to stop and sit to meditate.
During mindful meditation the same process happens, but as meditation generally focuses inwardly on the body or on a specific visualization of the mind, it is usually practised whilst sitting, however sometimes people will meditate whilst standing or walking very slowly or staring at one point ahead, with lowered eyes and sometimes through a very inward kind of dance. This really is the difference between mindfulness and meditation. Because meditation is much more introspective, during meditation there is the opportunity to go into a much deeper state and long periods of meditation can produce feelings of ecstasy.
Types of meditation range from Tai Chi to visualization, from Whirling dervishes to focusing on repetitive drumming, sitting in a posture and becoming aware of the breath, chanting mantras, or the Japanese tea ceremony. Meditation is a part of many major religions but is also practised by atheists. Early humanity probably would have spent time staring in to the fire finding themselves going into a trance, as I'm sure most of us have found ourselves doing at some time in our lives. So as you see meditation can be practised by anyone.
Mindfulness has really become an umbrella term which encompasses meditation.
This wonderful poem by Rumi, seems to explain the essence of mindfulness and its benefits. It makes it clear that mindfulness and meditation are not about trying to push away thoughts and emptying your mind, (as many people mistakenly believe them to be), but the true essence of being mindful is simply to be an impartial non-judgemental observer.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest -house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of all its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
The scientific study of meditation and mindfulness has increased dramatically since the 1970s when it first began, and has had a surge of increased activity in the last ten years. Jon Kabat-Zin who initiated Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programmes in 1979, and wrote the best selling book Full Catastrophe Living, has worked together with scientists to study the effects of mindfulness and meditation and its effect on many aspects of life and recovery from illnesses and disorders. Because of the huge amount of benefits that have been recorded by these clinical trials, scientists are continuing to expand their research. It is a wonderful and exciting new direction for science to explore.
The most in depth study was carried began at the end of 2007 over a period of three months. It compared a group of people on a meditation retreat with a control group. This was called the Shamatha Project . At the end of the three months, results from a series of tests given to participants showed a striking difference between the meditators and the control group in a number of cognitive and behavioural reactions, as well as biological changes in the brain.
Here is a sample of some of the other studies which have been done by a range of different researchers.
So as we watch the new interest in mindfulness and meditation take root right across the breadth of society, we can look forward with interest at what kind of an impact this new phenomenon will have on our society, how it will influence the direction of scientific enquiry and how people themselves will perhaps learn to relate to one another in a wonderful new way, perhaps a little less judgementally and more calmly. Perhaps people will learn to work together more harmoniously.
It is a simple practice which can be used by anybody.
Here is a wonderful piece of wisdom from ancient China, which explains how creating harmony within the home (this also applies to the workplace) and eventually world peace, all begins within yourself.
“If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbours. If there is to be peace between neighbours, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart”.- Lao Tzu