The epitome of mindfulness is meditation. To use the phrase "mindfulness meditation" is like saying "meditation meditation" or "mindfulness mindfulness". This malapropism is due in large measure to the co-opting - and misapplication - of language brought into the common consciousness by the teachings of Thich Naht Hahn, as well as the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness, at its most basic, means paying attention. Meditation is about bringing the mind to a state of one-pointedness. This one-pointedness entails paying attention (being mindful) to the process of thought, without getting hung up on the individual thoughts themselves. Meditation, then, is being mindfully attentive without being invested, and being mindful becomes a meditation when we are both attentive and uninvested. They are like the two sides of a mobius strip - simultaneously different, yet one in the same. Chop wood, carry water.

Most people do not meditate; they concentrate. In the Vedantic teachings of the Himalayan Masters - our oldest record of written meditation instruction - this is an important distinction. Dharana is the concentration and cultivation of inner perceptual awareness - going inside -- that issues forth from pratyahara, defined as controlling the senses or, more plainly, no longer going outside. Dhyana, or meditation, is cultivated by moving ourselves from a state of dharana into a specific state of mindfulness or letting go. This is familiar to most of us as the emptiness (mu), or (often misinterpreted) "killing of the ego", found in Zen teachings.

The average non-task-oriented attention span of a human being is about 8 seconds, while the average task-oriented attention span is about 20 minutes. Vedanta teaches that the movement from dharana to dyana is proscribed by the ability to remain one-pointed for 11 seconds. Those 3 seconds - from an 8 second non-task-oriented attention span to one that is 11 seconds in length -- are, for most of us, huge.

The Himalayan Masters teach that, once we reach a state of mindful attention that lasts 11 seconds, we should begin to work toward 22. When we can put together 11 units of 11 seconds, then we have 121 seconds. When can put together 11 units of 121 seconds, we have a meditation practice - 22 minutes and 18 seconds. From here we move forward, putting together 11 units of 22 minutes, 18 seconds, ultimately bringing us to a formal meditation practice that lasts exactly 4 hours.

There are also many different forms of meditation, and no one is right or wrong, better or worse. As a culture, we are most familiar with the formal sitting meditation of Zen and Yoga. There are also standing and lying practices found in the Taoist teachings, as well as dynamic practices like Yoga asana, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Chi Kung (Qi Gong), Nei Gong and others.

There are also many different techniques for focusing the mind and compelling one-pointedness. There is the almost ubiquitous technique of following the breath; although how this is done differs among disciplines (Yoga and Taoist practice are opposite, for example). Some Tibetan schools teach following only the out-breath. There is also mantra, japa, running, walking, eyes open, eyes shut - the variations are endless. Even the rosary of Christianity and the dovening found in Orthodox Judaism, with their ritual and repetition, can be thought of as meditative practices.

The point here is that there are many ways to meditate and, no matter which you choose to best suit your needs and personality, at the core of it, mediation and mindfulness are inextricably linked within the context of every practice, two sides of the same coin.

© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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