What is the difference between Mindfulness, meditation and Meditation (uppercase “M”)
By Dhaval Chadha
Over the past few years, the idea of living mindfully and practicing mindfulness has captured the collective imagination of people all around the world. From the streets of Bali to boardrooms in Silicon Valley, there has been widespread adoption, and thousands of mindfulness gurus are teaching a myriad of flavors of it.
As a result, there are many diverging views about the similarities and differences between mindfulness and meditation. We find that often people are speaking with a lack of consensus and clarity on what mindfulness and meditation each mean. This is my personal attempt to provide some clarity and offer my own understanding. But first, let’s look at some of the existing opinions out there.
Some practitioners argue that the two are essentially the same — age old practices focused on making us more calm, developing a higher degree of self-awareness, and increasing our level of compassion towards others.
Others say that mindfulness is an intention and way of being, whereas meditation is a practice (see Headspace’s FAQ). Jon Kabbat Zinn, often credited with popularizing mindfulness in the US says, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Meditation on the other hand, is the actual practice of sitting and applying a specific technique for desired outcomes.
Still others assert that in addition to mindfulness, mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation, focused on creating more awareness and presence, i.e., more mindfulness. This allows for a number of other approaches to meditation with different intentions to co-exist with mindfulness meditation.
Finally, there is the view that builds on this understanding and goes further, saying that there is meditation with a lowercase “m” and Meditation with an uppercase “M.” In this view, Meditation is understood as an intention and practice that goes beyond mindfulness and into the realm of awakening to the ultimate nature of reality in which “pure awareness transcends and includes body, emotion, thought, personal identity, space/time, individual consciousness,” leading to a fuller embodiment of conscious love, and a commitment to positive change in the world.
“Whereas a basic mindfulness practice allows us to be more present within the container of our everyday experience, Waking Up takes us beyond the mere present moment of thought, sensation, and emotion, to come to the direct experience of a non-separate awareness, totally open, spacious and free. Many of us have felt and known this experience directly in our own lives.” –Beyond Mindfulness by Dustin DiPerna
Here is a summary of the viewpoints laid out above (which, of course, aren’t completely exclusive to begin with):
meditation with a lowercase “m” refers to the broader set of practices that produce positive effects like equilibrium, concentration and altruism.
mindfulness is a way of being in any moment — aware of each thought, each emotion and each action as it arises, thereby bringing a further degree of intentionality and equanimity.
mindfulness meditation refers to meditation focused on helping practitioners become more mindful.
Meditation with an uppercase “M” refers to practices focused on a more fundamental awakening to the true nature of how things are and a commitment to living more fully and serving a higher purpose.
This is quite different from how the word mindfulness is used the mainstream, which seems to be a narrow understanding of mindfulness. “Pop” mindfulness has come to be seen as a stress-busting productivity hack that miraculously makes anxiety disappear and the work day more tolerable.
The good news is that with almost any meditation or mindfulness meditation practice, these results are observable with consistent practice, and so we are fully in support of the widespread adoption of these techniques in all walks of life and by all people. Having said that, this narrower understanding may have lost some of what is fundamental to the individual experience as well as the collective impact that can be generated.
So at Sphere, our intention is to help rediscover and repurpose Meditation for contemporary practitioners. From more basic options for beginners, to more advanced courses focused on generating stability in multiple states of consciousness (more on that in a subsequent post), our hope is to include and transcend mindfulness in a deeper and more profound exploration and a wider and more extensive embrace.
He is the CEO of Sphere, where he is focused on creating the world's largest urban yoga and meditation movement. Dhaval is a serial mission-driven entrepreneur having co-founded 4 companies including an impact investment fund. He studied at Harvard and Singularity University. He is always looking for ways to use business, technology and other means to build a better and more compassionate future. His other interests include the evolution of consciousness, integral theory and meditation/yoga.