Mindfulness isn’t the same as meditation… and yet it is. The demands an explanation. The problem doesn’t lie with what mindfulness is, but with the common misunderstanding of what meditation is. Meditation is generally perceived as being on the one hand a relaxation technique, good for relieving stress, or on the other hand a New Age tool to attain some level of spiritual breakthrough, however one might interpret that term.
Meditation is in fact a tool for mental development. Just as we went to school, college or university to be nurtured intellectually, and to the gym to develop and maintain ourselves physically, so to develop mentally – that is, emotionally and psychologically – we can use meditation as a technique to do so. In this original sense of the word meditation, then yes, mindfulness is a meditative technique.
But this doesn’t mean you need to cross your legs, sit on a cushion or chant. You can sit on a chair, stand, walk around, and do all the routine tasks we need to do in our daily lives. But we can do so mindfully. Normally for example when we do the ironing our minds dislike the task so our focus in on resentment of the task, or we start to think of things we’d much rather be doing. In this way we are not really with the ironing task as we do it and thus we lose out on the actual experience of the moment. Try it. Try ironing, washing the dishes, tidying up, cleaning your teeth, or any other mundane task, while being fully aware of the experience of doing these tasks. Just do it and over time you will experience a calming yet more alert mental experience in your life.
Of course there is also formal meditation on the breath but really this is simply another way to experience the present moment in a single-minded focussed way. It is important not to get lost in striving for goals such a relaxation or increased awareness in any mindfulness practice. These things are outcomes of the practices, not goals. The more you strive the less benefit you get. Rather, just focus on the task at hand, whether that is observing your breath as you inhale and exhale in formal mindfulness meditation, or on the process of sweeping the kitchen floor if that’s what you are doing.
If you run an organisation, say a school, a business or a department, you can use these mindfulness practices – paying attention to the present in a non-judgemental way – in your decision-making processes. A calmed, non-judgemental mind makes far clearer, more considered decisions than a mind that prejudges the situation, rushes decisions, and does not consider the full picture. Unless in an emergency it is always helpful in making major decisions to slow things down, try to create a calm, relaxed state of mind, see all sides of the situation and consider all options. Your team will also respond much more positively to a leader who is seen to be calm and clear in their thinking, and who takes cognisance of all views in a measured and approachable manner before making final decisions. The practices of mindfulness, especially in everyday routine tasks, helps leaders attain a state of mind that is ideal for major decision-making and clear and full communication.