I suppose I should have thought it strange when the nurse practitioner at the pain clinic kept asking me to see the psychiatrist on staff and whether I’d been practicing mindfulness.
What kind of question is that for mainstream medicine? “Have you been practicing mindfulness and meditation?”
Truly, it’s astonishing. On the one hand, it’s a shot at Western philosophy: “Do you really have so little to offer me in terms of medical care?” In reality, what was actually said was: “We now appreciate the value that alternative medicine has.”
Think about it. Alternative medicine has struggled to be accepted for ages. Now my doctors are actually recommending that I meditate. That I live mindfully. That I try acupuncture, pain psychology, mental techniques, and more.
As I delve deeper into self-care, I have come to realize that many people do not know the difference between mindfulness and meditation. For this week’s edition of Word War Won, I won’t be pitting the two practices against each other. (They both win, in case you were worried.) People use the terms interchangeably and conflate the concepts. Let’s dig in and see what they are.
Mindfulness. Noun. [muheyend-fullnes] Being fully conscious, present, and aware.
Meditation. Noun. [med-i-tashun] A practice in which one spends time in focused thought or prayer.
They kind of sound the same, don’t they? It gets more difficult when people say they practice “mindfulness meditation.” Sure, that’s one method. Mindfulness is mindfulness, though, like a cigar is a cigar. (Please don’t get Freudian on me.)
When I think of mindfulness, I think of hyper-focus. You feel the air you breathe flow in through your nostrils and down your esophagus into your lungs. Your fingertips register the smooth plastic when typing on a keyboard. You parse apart the background noise, following each sound to its specific source. What you touch, see, hear, feel, is simply that — a sensation. You are mindful of its origin. You focus on the present, on the now. You don’t think of what happened five minutes ago or what will happen five minutes into the future. You are here.
Meditation, on the other hand, can take many different forms. There are so. Many. Kinds. Of meditation. At its core, however, meditation is simply the act of focusing one’s thoughts inward. Or outward, if you’re doing a walking meditation, a mindfulness meditation, or a prayer-type of meditation in which you send energy out to another person or place. You could do guided imagery. You could be mentally floating around in the cosmos without a specific focus. If you don’t like the hippie-dippie stuff, you can focus on your breath or a candle flame or drops of water. Mindfulness is the tool; meditation is the practice.
What’s that? You, in the back! Yes, you asked what my favorite meditation is?
I have no favorites. I use an app called Buddhify, which is magnificent. When you open it, a colored wheel pops up with different parts of your day: “Work,” “Break,” “Travel,” “Can’t Sleep,” “Pain & Illness,” and many more. You click on one, and it unfolds into a series of guided meditations from which to choose. This is a fantastic way to get started if you’re a beginner like me. However, sometimes you don’t have time for a full meditation, even one that’s five minutes long. This is when I fall back onto my ballet training as a child.
J. W. KAIN’S SUPER-AWESOME MEDITATION
Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the breath. Notice every particle in the air that is flowing into your nose. Try to make it last for four beats, like when you count music.
And again. Focus on the words. Examine the breath. Do this for however long feels comfortable. If your mind starts wandering, label that as an errant thought and file it away for later. Then keep going. Breathe like Darth Vader, in the back of your throat. Really get that oxygen circulating.
I always seem to wake up from it feeling better than when I went under, like I took a trip to the oxygen bar. Hopefully it works for you as well!