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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Creating Clarity

Jan 29, 2021 07:12PM ● By Jose Johnson
The distinction between mindfulness and meditation can quickly become blurred, primarily because most people have a limited perspective on both topics. This fact is true for the general public as well as many experienced practitioners. A way to explain the difference is that meditation is a technique or practice. Meditation is something that we do. Mindfulness is an approach. Mindfulness is how we choose to perceive the world. Mindfulness is the genus, while meditation is a species. But there is more to it than that.


During my studies of Chinese martial and energy arts, one of my mentors explained the Chinese perspective of meditation. He said that most Westerners incorrectly believed that the goal of meditation was to develop the ability to clear the mind completely. The traditional way to approach meditation is actually “to let one thought represent 10,000.”


Meditation is not about completely emptying the mind; it’s merely letting go of the things that we don’t need at the moment. It is biologically impossible for a healthy human brain not to have a single thought. The brain’s job is to think and to process information. At every moment, we have thousands of thoughts floating around in our heads. Meditation is a process of narrowing the spotlight of our attention and intention. 


Meditation can be practiced in a variety of ways with a variety of desired outcomes. Meditation can be a spiritual or secular practice. Meditation can be done seated, lying down and even moving. But because meditation requires an intentional shift of awareness, it is part of the bigger picture that is mindfulness.


Mindfulness has a few definitions. According to Oxford’s, the most general definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” The scientific definition of mindfulness is “the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance.” Mindfulness is our state of being; it’s how we are. We are always mindful when we meditate, but we don’t always have to meditate to be mindful. 


Most people mistakenly believe that mindfulness is only about being in the present moment. That is only partially true. Mindfulness is about focusing our awareness, but that can be in the past, present or future. Being able to reflect on the past or visualize the future is one of the human mind’s crowning achievements. “Time travel” to the past allows us to analyze our actions and determine what is working and what is not.


If we couldn’t think about the future, we would have no creativity, innovation or planning. The problem that most people face is they get stuck in the process of “time travel”, which makes it difficult to function in the present moment. Getting stuck in the past leads to guilt and depression. Too much time in the future can lead to fear and anxiety. Being mindful doesn’t erase the past, but it can allow us to look at it from a new perspective. Being mindful doesn’t mean that we don’t plan for the future. Instead, it gives us a firm foundation from which to start. 


Living life in a mindful manner is a conscious choice. The method that we choose to sharpen our skills is a personal decision. There are thousands of ways to enter a more focused and present state of mind, experience a deeper awareness of life or simply feel less stress and more joy. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, tai chi, gardening or golfing, find an activity to enjoy, and choose to do it mindfully.


Jose Johnson is the author of the book Mindfulness Secrets: 90 Ways in 90 Days. For more information, visit