When we talk about mindfulness and awareness, are we all talking about the same thing? Do we all mean the same thing when we discuss these concepts? Are they the same thing?
Mindfulness is defined by Merriam Webster as “a state of being mindful” and "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis"; and, being mindful is defined “as "inclined to be aware", "bearing in mind", or "aware of something that may be important."
So are we talking about the same thing? At first glance, there appears to be an underlying difference between awareness and mindfulness. At the very least, the difference between these two concepts appears to be this: awareness is to pay attention to what you feel and experience through your body via your sensations and feelings; and, mindfulness is the practice of focused awareness that affects your mind and body. We experience life through our body, and so it follows, that when we are aware, we will notice the experiences in our body through our senses.
Mindfulness has been expressed in a multitude of ways and has evolved over time. I have not yet been able to find a singular definition of the term and concept of mindfulness. It has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but is not expressed or defined the same way by all schools of Buddhism; and, it is different from the secular practice of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and mindfulness training. Mindfulness practice is typically meditatively-oriented. Mindfulness meditation has become a highly exalted and researched concept; yet, it is not clear that everyone is talking about the same thing (Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Wallace, 2006; Dreyfus, 2011; Bodhi, 2011; Grossman, 2008; Grabovac, Lau, & Willett, 2011; Olendzki, 2011; Williams & Kabat-Zinn, 2011).
Popular psychology defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present.” In this way, when we are mindful, we observe thoughts and feelings from a distance, and without judgment. Much of mindfulness meditation research looks at how it affects the mind by helping us to improve our memory and attention skills, emotional regulation in mood disorders, improving anxiety and mood symptoms, pain relief, and to help focus the mind or to tune out distractions.
When I use the term awareness, I mean that which we experience and feel in our body, not in our mind. Even when you focus your awareness on what you are thinking, you will have corresponding feelings and sensations in your body about your thoughts. For example: I am ashamed. How does that feel in your body? This is everyday awareness, without meditating, in order to observe what you experience and feel. You don’t observe your feelings and sensations from a distance because it is useful information. Nor do you always have to give your full attention to every single experience. There are great benefits to being aware and mindful, but there are also great benefits to just letting your mind wander. You are aware of how your body feels because you pay attention to how your body feels. You are aware of what helps you to feel better, because you pay attention to how your body feels. If you don’t pay attention, that means you are not aware. How would you know what to do in order to feel better? You wouldn’t be able to discern what was good for you and what wasn’t good for you. You cannot observe from a distance the very thing that you need in order to feel better. This everyday awareness requires the ability to discern those experiences and feelings in order to move toward a place of healing and feeling better. This requires the ability to be aware and to listen to your body. This is how I understand awareness to be different from the practice of mindfulness. Awareness is a natural, everyday feedback mechanism that helps us to do things that feel right and are right for us. When we pay attention in this way, we are moved toward those things that help us to feel better.
Copyright © 2016. Sylvia Carlson. All Rights Reserved.
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