Is Mindfulness a form of Meditation?

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.

People often think of meditation as a practice of Hinduism.

Meditation Defined

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

Religious

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.

Religious meditation can take many forms including contemplation, prayer, mantra, and chanting.

Philosophical

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.

Thinking deeply about Reasoning and Ethics is an ancient form of meditation associated with Philosophy.

Secular

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?

While secular mindfulness meditation practiced in education may share some outward characteristics with religious meditation, what we practice in public schools is not religious.

Clarification

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.

Non/Attachment: Mindful Parenting

When people think of mindfulness they sometimes mistakenly believe that sitting quietly is self-centered. Parents seem to really struggle with this concept. For certain, there are a limited amount of hours in a day and making space for a practice is extremely difficult. However, there is growing evidence that mindfulness actually helps people to be more engaged in relationships. If mindfulness can help us to be more effective in building and maintaining relationships this might encourage parents and even people in general positive justifications for taking a few minutes of silence to practice mindfulness. But how does a practice that teaches non-attachment lead to healthy attachment?

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Attachment Theory

Attachment is an emotional bond between people that is healthy, deep and enduring that can span across time and space. This strong emotional bond gives those who experience attachment a sense of security. By having someone we can depend on deeply then regardless of what happens, even tragic situations, we are grounded in a healthy relationship that we can look to for support. Through attachment we can develop “attunement” which is a neurological process that helps us understand and connect more deeply with others. For some people their parents are the first relationships that help them form attachment and attunement. For other people the relationship with their parents do not support healthy attachment which makes it more difficult to form healthy relationships with other people outside the family unit. At this point, some people like me say, “I didn’t get everything I needed (or think I needed) as a kid. Well, I am screwed.” But not all is lost! There is hope!

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Daniel J. Siegel writes in his book The Mindful Brain about COAL, the foundational mindfulness practices of Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. He writes,

COAL is exactly what parents who provide secure attachment to their children have as a mental stance toward them. We can propose that the interpersonal attunement of secure attachment between parent and child is paralleled by an intrapersonal form of attunement in mindful awareness. Both forms of attunement promote the capacity for intimate relationships, resilience and well-being (Siegel, 2007, pg. 26)

Mindfulness helps to the practitioner to develop those skills and the neurological framework similar to those that some people get from their parents. This gives me hope because through mindfulness I am developing a better relationship with myself and others. Through developing attunement in myself I find people more easily I can trust and can more easily identify people whom I can care about from a distance. Even during stressful times I am able to remain grounded in a way that was not possible before being a mindful practice. I have a better sense of overall well-being. My relationship with my children continues to develop in a more productive way.

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One more important point that the discussion of healthy attachment and the mindfulness practice raises is to the question that many parents ask ourselves, “Am I messing up my kids?” Ultimately we do the best we can with the information and skills that we have. The hopeful insight is that even if we make mistakes as parents, which we will, our children have the ability, through mindfulness practice to develop and strengthen those areas where we as parents fall short. With some dedication and responsible practice we can all heal ourselves a little more one breath at a time!

 

 

Mindful Parenting

One reason I began Possibilities Exist is provide mindfulness training for children and youth. Anyone who is around young people knows that mindfulness is very much needed and that those skills can be beneficial for the rest of their lives. While this is still very much my desire I find myself writing articles directed toward parents. While taking a walk yesterday (the time in which I let my mind wander, explore and imagine possibilities) I realized that the work of providing parents information is extremely important. As a parent and public school teacher I continue to understand the impact my own personal practice of mindfulness can have on my kids.

When talking with someone at Mindful Schools (the place where I continue to get mindfulness education) about getting educators trained in teaching mindfulness to students I was told, “While it is important to teach the students mindfulness it is more important to have mindful teachers.” I brushed this off as a nice idea but I felt it was more important to teach kids.

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I am not finding the gem of truth in that statement. As a parent I now know that “while it is important to teach my kids mindfulness it is more important to have be a mindful parent.” There are many reasons why it is more important for me as parent to practice mindfulness than my kids to learn it. By practicing mindfulness I am modeling more positive behaviors which my kids begin to learn, I respond differently creating a more positive atmosphere and ultimately I am better at being a parent. Just like stated on airplanes, “Put on your mask before assisting your children.” If I am not nourishing myself and coming from a place of mindfulness my entire family is in jeopardy of chaos.

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I am not diminishing in any way the importance of young people learning mindfulness. I am continuing to teach classes and will post articles directed specifically to children and young people. But right now I am going to intentionally focus on creating some resources and feedback on mindful parenting. So, let’s figure out how to practice this thing called mindfulness before we move on to assisting our children in formally learning mindfulness. Let’s begin!

The P’s for Mindfulness Perfection

Let me start by saying that I lied- there is no such thing as mindfulness perfection. I prefer to think of it as the principal at my school says, “Practice makes permanent.” If we do something over and over again it becomes habit for us. Once established habits are hard to break. And we can use that to our advantage!

The 3 P’s

The benefits of mindfulness may be many. Look at any magazine, television special, youtube channel and, yes, scientific studies and you will see the possible outcomes that you may reap from practicing mindfulness. However, those benefits will only come if you practice. That is where the problem often arises for many of us- there are only so many hours in the day. As a parent, a public school teacher, a person who is involved in way too many activities I am even more aware of the limited amount allotted to me each day. But what I have come to understand is, if I take a little time each day to practice mindfulness my experience with all of the other activities will be so much more positive, effective, and meaningful. That is where the 3 P’s come into play.

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Personal Practice for Parents

Parents often ask, “What can I do to help my child with meltdowns, stress, getting to bed, _________________ (fill in the blank with the various struggles)?” One of the biggest and most effective answers, which I was reluctant to hear for a long time, is work on yourself as parent. What I realized is that if I can come to a place of some stability then I can react differently. When I react differently to situations then no matter what happens, if if the pattern has been well-established, then the outcome usually changes.

When I began to change…….

A perfect example is when I had a student with whom I had worked on developing a relationship, finding out more about the student and really taking a genuine interest in his life. However, there were days when this student would come in and I could tell by looking at his eyes that he had disconnected. On these days the student would without fail in get in trouble and end up in the principal’s office at some point throughout the day. The student would try to provoke teachers, would say horrible things and even break items in the class. I was just beginning to practice mindfulness and was struggling to bring it into my daily life. I wracked my brain to find a solution. Then it came to me- I could use the disruptive behavior of the student to help me remember to practice mindfulness in the moment. I decided that when I focused on my breathing I would also smile and tell the student, “Thank you,” simply as a practice of gratitude for helping me.

The student came in one day and I could tell something was off. I did everything I could do to connect with the student to no avail. I was teaching and the student got up talking loudly at me across the room. I asked him to sit down as I was teaching. The student only got louder and started saying very rude things to me. I continued to be polite but could feel the anxiety in the room build. The student started walking across the room and stood right in front of me. I felt trapped. I was able to walk around the student to my desk all the while the student is yelling at me for no reason. I sat behind my desk and realized I was trapped. There was only one way into and out of my desk. The student was blocking the way, which caused great anxiety in me. Then I remember, mindfulness! I began focusing on my breath instead of the situation. Then I smiled. All of the other students were taken aback and said, “Oh man, he is smiling.” I told the student, “Thank you.” He immediately stopped screaming and said, “Why?” I simply said, “Thank you.” The student was so baffled that he stood there for a moment almost dazed and then when he realized I wasn’t going to react, he went and sat down.”

Since this time I have had many similar situations with other students and with my own children.

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Taking Time for 3 P’s

The amount of time it takes for me to practice can be range from a few brief moments to several day retreats. What I realized though was that I could actually save time if I practiced mindfulness. Those five, ten, twenty minutes that I take to practice save me time in the long run. By being able to be mindful in my daily life I am better able to deal with situations as they arise. How much time and energy are spent putting out fires especially when I add to them, in procrastinating, in doing other things to divert from looking at my feelings? The amount of time and energy it takes adds up to much more than the time I spend doing a formal (alone) practice of mindfulness.

Tips For Establishing Personal Practice for Parents

  1. Find support. This can be a Facebook group, a local mindfulness group, friends and family- anyone who can encourage you in developing a practice.
  2. Talk to your kids about how mindfulness may help you and if you are helped it will support the entire family.
  3. Integrate mindfulness into your daily life. My family does a “Minute of Mindfulness” before dinner together. It might not seem like a lot but I get at least 7 minutes a week that I wouldn’t get without it. Check out information about InterChange. Brainstorm ways that your family can get involved.
  4. Look for my upcoming post, “Finding Time to Practice 101”