To some, the idea of meditation has evil connotations, especially those given to more religious beliefs. Like the practice of yoga, meditation is seen as an alternative “heathen” practice which is not congruent with a pious life.
The practice of mindfulness, however, has scientific connotations, and evokes the idea of a harmless day-to-day practice akin to exercise or clean eating. So what’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness? Are they interchangeable?
Firstly, let’s look at mindfulness and meditation separately. What is mindfulness? “The simplest definition of mindfulness is just having your mind in the present moment,” said Peter Radliffe, Life Coach at Skillful Mind Meditation Retreats.
“Being aware of your five senses and what is going on around you right here right now and also being aware of the thoughts that are coming up in your mind is even more important,” he adds.
Another way to understand mindfulness is to look at its opposite, which is distraction. Being completely distracted is thinking of things that are not happening now. Worrying about things in the future; being depressed about things that have happened in the past; or re-hashing stressful events that have happened in the past. Mindfulness is the opposite of this.
Mindfulness is a quality and state of mind. It brings about focus and calmness in your life and your mind. Being concentrated and calm brings about other qualities like creativity and empathy, which in turn bring about other qualities like compassion and open-heartedness. Mindfulness clearly can’t be evil.
Meditation will give you greater control of your emotions and regulation over the thoughts that arise…Peter Radliffe, Life Coach at Skillful Mind Meditation Retreats
In fact, mindfulness is a very good quality of mind to have. And it can be fostered with regular practice, like a mental muscle. We build up the muscles in our body to have a healthy body. If you practice mindfulness regularly you will have a healthy mind. This will give you greater control of your emotions and regulation over the thoughts that arise. This in turn will modify your behaviour.
Let’s look at meditation and how it relates. If mindfulness is a good quality, how can we build up this “muscle” of the mind?
The best way to do this is through the practice known as meditation. Mediation is simply sitting quietly and focusing on the present moment. When the mind gets distracted, we acknowledge the distraction and bring our mind back to the present moment. This repetition is the exercise that strengthens the mental “muscle”. This is certainly not the work of the devil.
When people talk about meditation opening us up to evil, they often give the rationale that “if you empty your mind then you make room for the devil to come in.”
This is non-sensical. Meditation is not about emptying your mind. Just try it – you can’t do it – no-one can empty their mind completely. There are always thoughts going on in the mind on a conscious level and even more so at the unconscious level.
So meditation is focussing the mind on an object in the present moment. It could be any object in the present moment: your breath, a candle, your footsteps or washing the dishes.
When you break it down into that simple definition, it is very clear that mindfulness is a quality to be generated. Over thousands of years people have developed this practice which is the most powerful way to develop mindfulness.
Another reason people think meditation is the work of the devil is that meditation causes us to feel we do not need God. It is said the original fallen angel Lucifer was cast from heaven because he did not need God anymore.
Deep meditation creates a feeling of connection and not separation. So people who are able to reduce stress and anxiety become more compassionate and kind – not less. This is certainly a sign that meditation is good for us and not evil in any way.
“If do come across people in society that worry when they hear you meditate that you are giving in to the devil or opening yourself up to spirits, talk about the difference between mindfulness and meditation to help explain what it is you do and why it is nothing to be afraid of,” Peter concludes.