Search online for mental health treatments and you’ll find everyone talking about mindfulness. There’s a reason it’s all the rage. Mindfulness has become a huge industry over the past few years because of its effectiveness at treating mental illness. Studies have shown that it works for a range of disorders.
If you’re a skeptic, you’re not alone. Many sufferers of mental illness recoil at the mention of mindfulness. It just seems too esoteric. Often, a reason for their skepticism is that they confuse mindfulness and meditation. The idea that sitting in silence is somehow going to cure mental illness sounds laughable.
However, mindfulness and meditation are certainly not the same thing. Here is how you can understand the difference.
Framework vs. Technique
Meditation is indeed an important part of mindfulness. But that’s all it is – one technique in an overarching framework. Out of context, meditation is not going to be effective in any sense. In the framework of mindfulness, however, it begins to make sense.
Mindfulness refers to an approach to living that is both broad and very specific. It requires its proponents to think about life in a way that can appear counterintuitive. It asks you to drop all of your preconceived notions about what constitutes happiness and health. But rather than providing an alternative, it shows how those notions are keeping you stuck.
One of the most important principles of mindfulness is learning non-judgment. We’re used to seeing things as good or bad. We apply this to everything, including feelings. Pleasure is good, and so joy and excitement are good. Pain is bad, and so sadness and anger are bad. It is often these judgments that cause us suffering. We try to hold onto “good” feelings, and don’t experience them while they’re there. We try to get rid of “bad” feelings, inadvertently holding onto them rather than allowing ourselves to feel them. If we simply felt them, they would fade away like any other feeling.
Meditation has its place
Meditation has a particular place in mindfulness. It is a technique, or range of techniques, useful for changing the way we experience our thoughts and feelings. Meditation gives us the tools to let our thoughts and feelings come and go without the judgments attached. It teaches us to be still rather than get caught up in thinking and reacting.
But it needs the mindfulness framework in order to be effective at treating mental illness. Simply sitting in silence for hours on end won’t help you. However, as a part of a mindful approach, it can change your life.