I teach mindfulness but not meditation and usually I practise mindfulness but not meditation. I think the distinction is important.

Knowing you are aware
In mindfulness, you are not only aware of what is going on but you know that you are aware. It’s like the difference between walking and knowing that you are walking. The knowing is what makes the difference when it comes to mindfulness.

Mindfulness is something we naturally dip in and out of. Those of us who deliberately practise mindfulness try to dip into mindfulness more often.

Longer time
In meditation you focus your attention on an object such as your breath or an image over a period of time, say twenty minutes to an hour or more. This can lead to:

  • a sense of calm
  • or of restlessness
  • or what what Buddhist meditators sometimes call ‘afflicted’ mind.
  • Afflicted mind
    In ‘afflicted mind’ painful thoughts, emotions and memories arise. These might very well be thoughts, emotions or memories we have have buried, perhaps without even being aware that we were burying them. The re-emergence of these painful thoughts, emotions and memories can, for some people, be interesting and for others disturbing. The latter is ‘afflicted mind.’

    Teaching strangers
    That’s why I have real doubts about introducing meditation to groups of strangers – in the workplace for instance – about whom I know nothing and who I may never see again: I don’t want to leave anyone to cope on their own with that ‘afflicted mind.’ I will not be there to help them through it.

    Simple mindfulness
    But I am happy to introduce mindfulness itself, using short, simple practices (such as those featured in my book Mindfulness on the Go), to anyone – it is immediately beneficial and in my experience it doesn’t do harm. On the contrary, it enhances our experience of living both in helping us to cope with the negative and to enjoy the positive.

    (These thoughts were prompted by an article in Tricycle Magazine called The Mindfulness Solution by Andrew Olendzki, author of Unlimiting Mind and then director of the Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies.