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What's the Difference Between Mindfulness, Mindfulness Meditation and Basic Meditation?

05/30/2013 04:22 pm ET | Updated Jul 30, 2013
  • Ira Israel Licensed Professional Counselor www.IraIsrael.com

When I think of mindfulness -- as distinct from the practice or tool of Mindfulness Meditation -- I think of a way of being in the world. Living mindfully, living consciously -- having a beacon such as love, peace or ease guide our every decision and action, rather than allowing ego to run on autopilot and make decisions from a fear-based, scarcity mentality -- is how we apply the non-reactivity we cultivate during Mindfulness Meditation to the rest of our lives.

All of us get triggered and have natural defense mechanisms that are part of our autopilot systems. Usually it takes a tragedy such as the death of a loved one, sudden loss of a job, a divorce, or a car accident for us to realize how misguided some of our thoughts and actions are. Mindfulness means living in a state of raised consciousness, knowing how our minds have been programmed to work, and then making healthy, long-term decisions about how we choose to conduct our lives. This includes mindful eating, mindful relationships, mindful speech, mindful livelihood, etc.

And here we can enunciate a distinction between Basic Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, and Mindfulness. For if you notice the above list of things we can and should be mindful about, you will find it to be not dissimilar from the Buddha's 8-fold path: Right view, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

As you already know, like Jesus was a Jew, Buddha was a Hindu. After realizing the origins of suffering, the Buddha constructed the 8-Fold Path to transcend suffering. It is this 8-Fold Path that we have basically distilled into what is now known as Mindfulness, I believe, without any religious connotations. In contrast, Mindfulness Meditation is one of the practices, one of the tools, of both the 8-Fold Path and of Mindfulness.

And this is where we can parse another subtle distinction between Basic Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation (as I developed in my last two Huffington Post articles "How I Teach Basic Meditation to Beginners" and "3 Things That Make Mindfulness Extremely Difficult"). From what I learned about Hinduism - particularly from Advaita Vedanta -- the purpose of Basic Meditation is to go to "the other side" of thoughts -- "MindLESSness," in fact -- in order to realize one's essential divinity, which gets masked and obfuscated by maya. Maya is best translated as "illusory" but it also has an ephemeral quality seeing as everything that we perceive through our five senses is transitory, constantly shifting.

So the intention of Basic Meditation is to trick the mind into releasing itself, trick the mind into giving the thinking apparatus a rest, so that we can realize our Higher Selves, our essential oneness with whatever we consider to be divine. On the other hand, the intention of Mindfulness Meditation is secular; namely, to train the mind, in the same way that we would lift weights to strengthen a muscle, to be able to concentrate -- and avoid weakly wandering around on autopilot -- for longer and longer periods of time.

As opposed to "zoning out," Mindfulness Meditation is like "zoning in" on whatever phenomenon or phenomena we choose to zone in on. We consciously focus our attention upon designated and specific thoughts or sensations that arise in our field of awareness and observe them non-judgmentally - maybe even label them. Thus, there are countless types of Mindfulness Meditations because we can choose to focus our attention on seemingly infinite phenomena.

There is often confusion because focusing the attention on the breath can be both a Basic Meditation and a Mindfulness Meditation. However, I believe the distinction lies in the intention: if you're focusing on the breath to transcend your ego and realize your inner divinity, then that is Basic Meditation, more in line with the Hindu lineage of meditation; if you're focusing on your breath to try to harness and train the mind and observe any thoughts that arise non-judgmentally, then that is Mindfulness Meditation, more in line with the Buddhist lineage.

On a much grander scale, Mindfulness is a way of being, a way of living day-to-day consciously and mindfully, of which the ultimate goal is to help us consciously make healthy long-term, loving, peaceful, compassionate choices and have all of our actions and reactions reflect those choices.

I hope that this clarifies the distinctions I see between Basic Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, and Mindfulness.

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