In our fast-paced and troubled world, two words that often arise not only in the healing practices but in the media and elsewhere are “mindfulness” and “meditation.” These are not new concepts certainly, but with the increasing stress of the times we have seen a paradigm switch in psychology that focuses on this healing type of energy. This form of psychology seeks to help understand and improve our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as well as our ailing and tired bodies.
So, what is mindfulness and what is meditation? They are the same and they are different. Mindfulness involves a state of consciousness in which you are aware of the present moment– where you are now. When you are mindful you are aware of the moment and what you are doing. You are aware of how your body feels, aware of the sounds around you, what is happening in the space in and around you, what your sensations are. This is an awareness with calm acceptance.
Meditation can include mindfulness and it can also be something more focused. I first learned to meditate from a dear friend who over 35 years ago helped me while I struggled with anxiety and depression. She had studied Zen meditation in Japan and she taught me to watch and count my breaths to ten and when I got to ten to start over again. If I got lost or forgot where I was, I could just start at one and begin again. I must admit it was not easy and at first I thought I’d never make it through the first 10 minutes, let alone go any longer. As hard as it was, however, I kept doing it and in many ways, it saved me. I still meditate but I’ve learned other ways to approach meditation as well. What is important to know about meditation is that at the heart of it is the breath. At the heart of meditation is the breath and whether you count your breaths or simply notice your breaths, meditation is mindful, conscious, and purposeful.
As part of my training as a therapist, I have learned various ways to use and teach meditation and mindfulness to my clients. It involves both a focused meditation, noticing the breath, and in a bit allowing the mind to wander, but not very far, to notice your surroundings, your feelings, your emotions, memories, and then return to focusing on the breath. This practice can give some relief to those of us who find meditation hard and don’t quite understand mindfulness.
The following is a reflection I wrote after doing this mindful meditation exercise.
I am sitting in my garden, just a little city garden, enjoying the warmth of the sun yet sitting in the shade of the umbrella. Around me are my plants and flowers that I love so much. I think about what it is like being present, to be where I am. I close my eyes and …
As I sit quietly
I become aware of my breath
I notice what it feels like to breathe
Then I shift to noticing the sounds around me, the birds, the wind chimes, and even the cars driving by
An image comes to mind, the past, regrets, simple memories
I shift gently back to my breath …
An emotion comes and I want to cry and I wonder if I will
Then I hear the birds again and feel the breeze and I notice
I shift again back to my breath
I think about being present, and I wonder, am I thinking about being present?
Or, am I being present?
I would like to be present
I feel my feet on the ground
I feel my breath going in and going out
I am aware of being aware … Let go