What is meditation?
Meditation is the training, directing and focusing attention in a deliberate way. Any time we bring our attention deliberately on an object, we are meditating.
There are many different types of meditation. There are devotional meditations where we might bring our attention to something bigger than us and connect with this bigger being. Praying for example is a type of meditation. There are contemplative meditations where we might bring the attention to a theme like love or forgiveness and deeply reflect on it. Or we might read a sacred scripture and contemplate its meaning. There are concentrative meditations where we might bring the attention to an object like a candle, an image or a mantra, and train to focus the attention there for long periods of time. Some daily activities such as painting watercolors or walking in nature can also be meditative in nature if we get immersed in them and keep the attention on the felt sense of the activity.
All these different types of meditation might serve to take us out of our struggles, to shift us from a small sense of self to a deep calm and connectedness. They might open our perspectives and help us see things differently.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where we bring the attention to the present moment experience, and become aware of what is here and now, in a compassionate, non-judgmental, and caring way. In mindfulness, how we become aware of the present moment (in a non-critical and warm way) is equally important if not more important than becoming aware of the present moment. For this reason, some senior mindfulness teachers replace the word mindfulness with lovingawareness.
Mindfulness is a translation from the word sati in Pali (the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism), and means to remember. In the Vipassana tradition of Buddhism, mindfulness practice refers to seeing clearly - seeing life and ourselves clearly as they are, and obtaining this clear seeing capacity through practice.
The two wings of mindfulness
Mindfulness is often likened to a bird with two wings: one wing is awareness and the other is compassion. The bird needs both wings to fly. Mindfulness practice therefore contains awareness practices which help us spaciously and non-judgmentally receive the present moment. And it contains compassion practices which help us give an active appropriate response of kindness to whatever is happening in the present moment.