top of page


Is there a difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?

A question that comes up in meditation classes frequently is about the difference between meditation and mindfulness; are they two separate ideas or are they the same thing? Can there be mindfulness without meditation practice, and vice versa?

It is no wonder people are confused. Mindfulness seems to be everywhere in the media, yet often the word meditation does not get a mention. Yet they are one and the same. Mindfulness is to be absolutely present and aware, through using all our senses – and so is meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, describes meditation as, “to be aware of what is going on: in your body, in your feelings, in your mind, and in the world.”

Mindfulness as part of Buddhist Teachings

Jon Kabat-Zinn writes that “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” Perhaps from this perspective, could we say then that mindfulness is just about the individual rather than extending our awareness into the world we live in? So in one way mindfulness can be seen as a means of personal growth; but surely to grow we need to be aware of all aspects of our life, and that includes how we relate to the world we live in, and who we are in the world?

This is where mindfulness and meditation meet. Meditation is not just about trying to be serene while sitting on the cushion, (although that is useful), it is about the Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the last of which is the Eight-Fold Path, which is how we reach that serenity. These include being aware of what we say (Right Speech), how we behave (Right Action), how we live (Right Livelihood), and being aware of our lives in this moment (Right Mindfulness). Often people only focus on the mindfulness, neglecting the importance of the other seven elements, not understanding that all eight aspects are inseparable from each other.

The Buddha saw all elements, including mindfulness, as essential for not only our meditation practice (which we might see as our personal growth), but also to our everyday life, which we might call our spiritual practice extending into our outer life. This seems to be missing from some writings and teachings on mindfulness. Our practice is about accepting life as it is. Tara Brach asks “What would it be like if I could accept life - accept this moment--exactly as it is?” That is the challenge for each of us on our journey, both as meditators and as mindfulness practitioners.


Meditation and Mindfulness as Everyday Practice

When we are sitting on the cushion and find ourselves aware of someone else in the group sniffling or shuffling about to get comfortable, can we accept that, and hold our stillness? When we can’t seem to let go of a persistent thought during a meditation, can we accept that as part of our practice?

When we are walking down the street and someone bumps into us because they are too busy texting on their phone, can we accept that, and not get angry? If someone criticizes us, can we maintain our calmness, and not react, or become defensive? These are all challenges to our inner and outer practice. If we can arrive at a point whereby we can accept that life is what it is, and see each moment for what it is, then we can maintain our serenity in the face of all difficulties, even the major ones.

Just as we need to do our meditation practice regularly, we also need to practice our mindfulness. “Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it” as Sharon Salzberg reminds us. Like anything, the more we practice meditation the easier it becomes, and so too does our mindfulness practice. So these two seemingly separate practices are really one and the same. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Meditation is - drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” Is this not also mindfulness, being totally aware of that cup of tea, its taste, its warmth?

bottom of page