the difference between mindfulness & meditation

As a thervadan buddhist practitioner I sometimes translate some the tools of this practice into psychological therapeutically appropriate support interventions for clients; however sometimes I don't.

Mindfulness and meditation are not the same thing and sometimes there are significant risks that come with meditation, specifically making anxiety and depression worse. So I wanted to take a moment to describe how I distinguish between the two.

To me mindfulness is a technique used to bring awareness to a present moment experience, it can be helpful in identifying an issue and allowing a client to ground herself in her work to bring attention to unconnected parts of their various selves.

Meditation is spiritual practice rooted in the eastern spiritual and religious traditions, the purpose of which is to reveal ultimate reality to a trained and stable mind, taught by a trained and ordained teacher. One must be mindful to practice meditation but one does not need to meditate to be mindful.

One of my more vocal critiques of western psychology, is the lack of finesse with which enthusiastic therapists incorporate meditation in their therapies, and or use buddhism as a therapeutic parlor trick, without fully understanding what buddhism is and/or conflating mindfulness with meditation.

One of the biggest risks of applying meditation with a person struggling with trauma is depersonalisation and re/triggering trauma responses in the body without offering any containment or grounding techniques.

As such I often keep a clear line between my practice as a student of theravedan buddhism and my practice as a student of human psychological processes. Many distinguish this as the difference bewteen ultimate and relative reality but I consider this a false dichotomy.

The distinction is that one, meditation, is done in service to a specific practice of spiritual liberation while the other, mindfulness, is a practice done in service to personal integration - this is not a dichotmy as much as it is operations that take place in a very different fields of motivations, experiences and intentions.

Both use being present as the anchor from which the activity is conducted and recognised, but from there meditation is not a psychological intervention, buddhism is not a therapy.

I am thankful for the gifts that theravadan buddhism has offered me in informing me as a therapist but I am, as I have said, very clear not to conflate the two.

The articles below give more indepth oversight of the risks of meditation for people struggling with mental illness.

article: meditation worsens anxiety & depression

article: meditation has a dark side

photo credit: Meditating on a rock | © Moyan Brenn/Flickr