Building on the post “Mindfulness in Education: Is It Religious?” I wanted to address another question that is often raised, “Is mindfulness a form of meditation?” This is a seemingly tricky question because people associate different ideas with the word ‘meditation.’ Some associate the idea with yogis in the mountains or perhaps peace and tranquility. Whatever association exists or does not exist, the question needs to be addressed.
Let’s start with the word “meditation.” To meditate means to think deeply and carefully about something. So when you focus on anything or contemplate an idea you are actually meditating, plain and simple. Meditation can be simple or complex. It can religious, philosophical or secular. What you focus on dictates what kind of meditation you are doing. All meditation is NOT religious/spiritual in nature.
Umbrella- The Metaphor
We can think of meditation like an umbrella. Similarly when we think of the word education we can use the same analogy. Education is like an umbrella term. Under education we can see that there are many different kinds of learning, some of which are completely unrelated. For instance, under the term education we find religious education, public education, private education, formal education, informal education, youtube tutorials, etc. The list goes on and on branching off into subsections as we go. Religious education may be completely different than watching a youtube video on fixing your car. However, they both are forms of education. Meditation is the same.
Under the umbrella of meditation we find various kinds: religious, philosophical, and secular with an endless list of subsections of each including problem solving, contemplating love, self-reflection, etc. My Granny used to say every time she saw me, “I’ve been studying about you.” Knowing she was a very religious woman I thought she was studying the Book of John (my given name) in the Christian Bible. It took a long time for me to understand that she was actually thinking about me. She was meditating on me, given me close consideration. When someone says mindfulness meditation we may think they mean they are meditating on something religious. But this is not always the case.
Forms of Meditation
In traditional religious/spiritual paths the object of meditation may be God, a mantra, or prayer. Often the goal is to connect with a Higher Power, to “see the reality of things” in a spiritual sense, to “let His (or Her or Its) will be done.” This can be found in almost every religion/spiritual path including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and many more.
Thinking about the underlying nature of reality without a religious/spiritual interpretation is meditation. As a Religious Studies major in undergraduate I was shocked when I picked up a book with ‘meditation’ in the title but on further study realized there was nothing about “meditation” in the book. This was my first insight into how even I had preconceived notion of what meditation was. Thinking deeply on Reason and Logic is indeed meditation. It is meditation on philosophy, not religious meditation.
Under the heading of “secular meditation” most ever other kind of meditation arises. People can think deeply about their day to day problems, the object of their love, or sensations in the body or on their breath. There does not have to be a focus on religious ideas, a foundation of belief or an philosophical stance. Mindfulness practiced in public education settings can thus be defined as a form of meditation. However, just like the umbrella term ‘education,’ the kinds of topics/subtopics that fall under the umbrella term ‘meditation’ may just as unrelated. While there may be some outward characteristics that look similar religious meditation is not associated with secular mindfulness meditation. For more insight into this see “Mindfulness in Education: Is It Religious?“
When someone asks me, “Is mindfulness a form of meditation?” I take a deep breath. I am not always sure what motivates the question. Often I ask a clarifying question like, “That is an interesting question, what do you mean?” I can determine whether someone has a preconceived notion, perhaps some fear related to term ‘meditation’ and can more easily answer whatever concern or idea someone might have. I remember that we do not all start with the same information and it is best to meet people where they are. I want to be clear in how I explain and educate people instead of trying to dance around the topic. I will directly answer the question posed and explain it: Mindfulness as practiced in public education is meditation but it is not religious.