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What came first the chicken or the egg? What came first Meditation or mindfulness? And what does it matter anyway?

My journey and practice of meditation has been varied interlinking at many crossroads. Way back in the 80’s at the start of each yoga session we had a relaxation and regularly at the end we practiced yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is described as a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed, and we (the students) became systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of verbal instructions. My teacher achieved this state by taking our awareness around certain areas of the body. This state of consciousness (yoga nidra) is different from meditation in which concentration on a single focus is required. During this time there were also Mudras and Mantras. Tris Thorp (http.2017) describes a mantra as, “….., a mantra is an instrument of the mind—a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation. Like a seed planted with the intention of blossoming into a beautiful perennial, a mantra can be thought of as a seed for energizing an intention. Much in the same way you plant a flower seed, you plant mantras in the fertile soil of practice. You nurture them and over time they bear the fruit of your intention.” She is rather eloquent in her description but at the time I really didn’t know what is was all about. My guided meditations for my own children developed from a place of practice rather than theory. And as described in my book introduction, my own awareness of my ‘Guardian Angel Stories’ being actual guided meditations came further along in my journey. There was no time for theoretical debate and psychological reassurance let alone flowery descriptions. Back then I had never heard of the word mindfulness but to be fair practices of any kind were described with the language of the day. The concept of ‘meditation’ was not synonymous with ‘mindfulness’, and ‘mindfulness’ was strangely absent in people practicing meditation. What is mindfulness and how do we define it today. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training (Wikipedia 2017.) In the Buddhist tradition mindfulness meditation is different from ordinary meditation and is the link between sitting meditation practice and everyday life. Mindfulness meditation improves our awareness throughout the day, so that we are not on “auto-pilot”, but instead living life fully aware. It’s important to integrate practice into day-to-day life. Here it is not interchangeable but distinct and is described as a type of meditation. Another form of meditation is Mantra meditation. It has been practiced in India for thousands of years because people knew that it reduces stress, calms the mind and increases inner peace. We have to remember that Hinduism and Buddhism are in fact forms of age old religions. There is a risk that modern meditation schools may try to convert the meditation student by interpreting their experiences of meditation from the viewpoint of the language of their beliefs. So where does that leave us? The research into both meditation and mindfulness has come a long way and there is strong evidence in the benefits of both. But in our rush to jump on the ban-wagon we must be sure not to confuse the two or believe them to synonymous. Also we have to be ‘mindful’, pardon the pun, to be aware of what group of populations these results are reported to benefit. Many positive correlations are from researching adults and we should be wary of claims that children will benefit in the same way. Notwithstanding many organisations now have a vested interest in pushing the ‘mindfulness’ agenda reaping financial rewards rather than lifelong spiritual ones. With my experience of meditation, guided meditation and yoga practices it was often in retrospect that you realised the benefits. On occasions or periods in my life when these practices were absent it was then that I realised how different I felt and how stress and anxiety had slowly crept in. In an effort to follow the scientific model and justify the result and benefits of meditation and mindfulness we may be limiting the natural unfolding and mystery of the journey itself. Now coming to my last question, “And what does it matter anyway,” Probably none and if it feels good do it and trust that your children will do the same. In the words of Dr Seuss, “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Meredith Harvey
Tris Thorp

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