15 January 2018


We know they are all good. We also know the words are often used inter-changeably in a way that can be confusing and sometimes lead to unhelpful or disappointing expectations.

So this week, what are they really and how do we practice each one most simply and directly? And then a glimpse into what meditation really is and what differentiates it from the others, but first

                 Thought for the day

     The longer you meditate,
     The longer you persevere
     Through the difficulties and the false starts,
     Then the clearer it becomes to you
     That you have to continue
     - if you are to lead your life
     In a meaningful and profound way

                              Fr John Maine

For most of us this is the easiest one. Learn to relax the body, learn to relax the mind. Reasonably straight forward.

My definition for relaxation is “using just that amount of energy required to do whatever it is that you are doing”.

It is like a stringed musical instrument.

Tune a guitar or violin too tightly and it sounds horrid.

Too loose, horrid in a different way.

Not too tight, not too loose - that is relaxation.

Body relaxed, thoughts come and go - just do not dwell on them. Relax. Let go a little.

Come back to the feeling of the physical relaxation if thoughts do become distracting.

Simple. Not too tight, not too loose. Not concentrating too tightly; not so relaxed as to space out.

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise remains after 40 years of experience, experimentation and research analysis by far my preferred relaxation technique. Easy to learn, easy to practise, very reliable for body and mind. Almost no associated difficulties…

Just do it! And reap the benefits.

An easy concept. By definition (according to Jon Kabot-Zinn and associates) “simply paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally”.

Basically this means allowing whatever is happening to happen but that we take the mental/emotional reaction out of it.

Becoming more like an impartial observer.

Letting things go.

This does not mean we are passive and inactive; it means clearing the mind of internal argument, debate, commentary and particularly judgement.

Doing so will leave the mind clearer and calmer; much more able to evaluate things and act appropriately.

In practice, mindfulness is also easy to teach, learn and apply. It translates directly into daily life leaving us more present and better able to function stress-free.

To develop the practice it is recommended to start with something simple like mindfulness of the breath. Just give your full attention to the breath and aim to let go of any reaction in the form of self-evaluation/criticism, commentary or distraction. Can take a while but benefits often accrue remarkably quickly.

Both of the words mindfulness and meditation are currently being used very loosely in many forums, including teaching environments.

My definition of meditation is that “Meditation is a process that takes us beyond our engagement with the Active Mind, into a direct experience of the Still Mind”.

Beyond the clouds into the blue sky.

This definition is based upon the fact that our minds have 2 aspects.

There is the Active Mind we are all familiar with that is the seat of conscious and unconscious thought, along with perception, volition (or will) and feelings.

Then there is the Still Mind that is beyond all that.

Ever feel like a functional half-wit? Many of us will have spent many years using only half our mind’s potential; maybe even totally unaware of the other half. Yet the Still Mind is the seat of wisdom and insight. The place of inner knowing, of inner truth. The real objective of the inner search that meditation shines the light upon.

Learning meditation is potentially much trickier than the other two. Maybe you are lucky and can take the Direct Path, but for most of us there is the rather long and tortuous Gradual Path based upon any variety of methods. Simple is always best.


So here is the thing. Relaxation and mindfulness as defined are to do with the Active Mind. Sure some people brand mindfulness as meditation and claim it does more, but then if so, they need to define it more clearly and if they were to do that they would be re-defining a traditional Buddhist term in a way that it has not been used for thousands of years. Seems many have actually done this…

And meditation as defined is not a passive thing as in we enter into some empty void. It is actually about seeing the truth of how things are. The truth of an absolute reality. Making any real progress with it is highly likely to change our life irrevocably.

Looking forward to focusing upon all this in the last 2 meditation retreats Ruth and I will do before I
conclude that work this Easter (both programs are fully booked as we speak but are taking waiting lists).

And I am near to completing a new meditation book that will explore and elaborate on this short summary - may be released within 6 months… We shall see.

Happy relaxing. Happy mindfulnessing. Happy meditating!


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  1. Thanks Ian. Not easy to define what distinguishes meditation from mindfulness but your attempt was clear and straightforward.

  2. Very helpful resource and summary - thanks Ian.

  3. I completely agree and tried in my own stumbling way to explain this to my class last year. Thanks Ian this will be very helpful.