October 2, 2015

Business mindfulness: Terminology at a glance

While mindfulness is to some extent designed to foster clarity, a problem with terminology and definitions sometimes can muddy the waters. Is mindfulness a kind of meditation or is meditation a form of mindfulness? Or are meditation and mindfulness synonymous? Local experts indicate that it depends on who’s using the terms and in what context.

“Mindfulness” removes religious connotation

Some would call mindfulness “a particular kind of meditation practice,” said Michael Gayner, executive director at Shambhala Mountain Center, northwest of Fort Collins.  Mindfulness has “also become a general rubric to talk about meditation in general,” he added. “I think mindfulness is a little more accessible (as a word than meditation), and meditation for some people can connote involvement in a religious tradition.”

Susan Skjei, Authentic Leadership Center director at Boulder-based Naropa University, also said “mindfulness” is used in different ways. “Mindfulness is coming into the present moment. That’s the colloquial way people are using ‘mindfulness’ (as a term),” she said, adding that the broad definition “frees it up from any religious framework.” 


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Mindfulness vs. meditation

One way to look at meditation versus mindfulness is that “meditation is one technique for learning mindfulness,” Skjei said, noting that in meditating, many people focus on the breath as the object of meditation.

Another way to look at mindfulness is as a first stage within the meditative process, a stage of gathering the mind, followed by a second stage of open awareness with the environment, Skjei said. But most people use the first, broader definition of mindfulness, she said.

That’s the way Sarah Innocenzi, vice president for people at Boulder-based Sovrn Holdings Inc., uses the term “mindfulness” – very broadly. Innocenzi sees meditation, acupuncture, exercise and deep breathing all as tools to achieve mindfulness.

Lauren Menger, a Ph.D. candidate in occupational health psychology at Colorado State University, also sees dual usage of mindfulness.

“I think that mindfulness is considered in this context as a practice of meditation, but also as a state of your mind, of becoming aware,” Menger said. “I think it can be used in two ways … mindfulness meditation practice in order to foster mindfulness as a state of mind.”

Kabat-Zinn’s broad definition

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, includes various forms of meditation within the mindfulness umbrella. In a 2003 scientific paper he said mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

On the other hand, the November 2014 mindfulness cover story of Scientific American uses a narrow definition of mindfulness, making it a subset of meditation. There are “three major forms of Buddhist meditation: focused attention, mindfulness, and compassion and loving kindness,” it said.

Mac McGoldrick, professor in the philosophy department at Colorado State University, said the Dalai Lama’s meditation practices basically use the same techniques as mindfulness – techniques such as quiet focus, visualization and auditory meditation. “All of these are elements that are taught in mindfulness,” he said. Outwardly they may look different, he said, “but the techniques are very much grounded in the same principles.”

Secularization OK

McGoldrick, who went into meditation as a religious practice, said mindfulness can be and is taught without any religious overtones, and the Dalai Lama is a supporter of such practices that lead to compassion.

R. Adam Engle, co-founder of the Mind and Life Institute, agreed. In 2000, said Engle in an email, the Dalai Lama “specifically encourage[d] scientists to research meditation to determine if it was beneficial for humans, using their notions of benefit or harm. If they found it beneficial, he encouraged teaching the practices in a purely secular fashion. He has been steadfast in this.”

Engle said mindfulness in the workplace is in its infancy and “its chaotic phase.” He predicts the term “mindfulness” will “give way to a more accurate way of describing what is taught and learned.” He favors the term “self-leadership.”

McGoldrick said mindfulness cannot be understood without a serious involvement of time and effort. In other words, definitions are secondary to actually doing the practice. “I always talk about rigor of practice,” he said. He meditates two hours every day, and said at least 10 minutes a day are needed.

Meditation has helped him personally focus and become a better listener, he said.

“It’s helped me become a better teacher,” said McGoldrick, a 25-year meditator who spent two years in the late 1990s as a monk at the Dalai Lama’s Namgyal Monastery at Dharamsala, India. “I think I’ve become a more effective member of the CSU community.”

While mindfulness is to some extent designed to foster clarity, a problem with terminology and definitions sometimes can muddy the waters. Is mindfulness a kind of meditation or is meditation a form of mindfulness? Or are meditation and mindfulness synonymous? Local experts indicate that it depends on who’s using the terms and in what context.

“Mindfulness” removes religious connotation

Some would call mindfulness “a particular kind of meditation practice,” said Michael Gayner, executive director at Shambhala Mountain Center, northwest of Fort Collins.  Mindfulness has “also become a general rubric to talk about meditation in general,”…

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