Mindfulness is defined as being attentive and aware, non-judgementally, whereas meditation is engaging in a mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
Professor Dorthy Yates applied meditative methods to achieve a significant mindful state. Her argument that operant conditioning could be manipulated into practical sets of behavior was applied to the training of WWII Naval Aviators and College Boxing Athletes.
In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill, which sparked a growing interest and application of mindfulness ideas and practices in the medical world for the treatment of a variety of conditions in people both healthy and unhealthy. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program uses the body scan as well as sitting meditation to manage pain. The body scan is derived from a traditional Burmese meditation practice called sweeping, from the school of U Ba Khin that S. N. Goenka teaches in his ten-day Vipassana retreats.
Much of this was inspired by teachings from the Eastern World, and particularly from the Buddhist traditions, where mindfulness is one of the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, who founded Buddhism almost 2,500 years ago. Although originally articulated as a part of what is known in the West as Buddhism, there is nothing inherently religious about mindfulness, and it is often taught independent of religious or cultural connotation.
A comprehensive 2013 meta-analysis of mindfulness-based therapy concluded that it was “an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.”
In the relatively new field of western psychological mindfulness, researchers attempt to define and measure the results of mindfulness primarily through controlled, randomised studies of mindfulness intervention on various dependent variables. The participants in mindfulness interventions measure many of the outcomes of such interventions subjectively. For this reason, several mindfulness inventories or scales (a set of questions posed to a subject whose answers output the subject’s aggregate answers in the form of a rating or category) have arisen. Twelve such methods are detailed at Mindfulness Research Guide. Examples include:
• the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)
• the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory
• the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills
• the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale.
Through the use of these scales – which can illuminate self-reported changes in levels of mindfulness, the measurement of other correlated inventories in fields such as subjective well-being, and the measurement of other correlated variables such as health and performance – researchers have produced studies that investigate the nature and effects of mindfulness. The research on the outcomes of mindfulness falls into two main categories: stress reduction and positive-state elevation.
The research leaves many questions still unanswered. Much of the terminology used in such research has no cohesive definition. For example, there is a lack of differentiation between “attention” and “awareness” and an interchangeable use of the two in modern descriptions. Buddhist contemplative psychology however, differentiates more clearly, as “attention” in that context signifies an ever-changing factor of consciousness, while “awareness” refers to a stable and specific state of consciousness.
Reception and criticism
Various scholars have criticized how mindfulness has been defined or represented in recent western psychology publications. B. Alan Wallace has stated that an influential definition of mindfulness in the psychology literature (by Bishop et al.) differs in significant ways from how mindfulness was defined by the Buddha himself, and by much of Buddhist tradition. Wallace concludes that “The modern description and practice of mindfulness are certainly valuable, as thousands of people have discovered for themselves through their own practice. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that the modern understanding departs significantly from the Buddha’s own account of sati, and from those of the most authoritative commentators in the Theravada and Indian Mahayana traditions.”
A 2013 review by Alberto Chiesa in the journal Mindfulness concluded that
According to authors well versed in the original Buddhist literature, from which several MBIs are overtly or implicitly derived, modern attempts to operationalize mindfulness have consistently failed to provide an unequivocal definition of mindfulness which takes into account the complexity of the original definitions of mindfulness…. Probably, a more in-depth dialogue between Western researchers concerned with the topic of mindfulness and Eastern and Western long-term mindfulness meditation practitioners will be needed before advances into the understanding of mindfulness within Western psychological theoretical frameworks will be achieved.
Eleanor Rosch has stated that contemporary “therapeutic systems that include mindfulness could as much be called wisdom-based as mindfulness-based.” In these therapeutic approaches
Mindfulness would seem to play two roles: as a part of the therapy itself and as an umbrella justification (“empirical”) for the inclusion of other aspects of wisdom that may be beyond our present cultural assumptions. Where in this is mindfulness in its original sense of the mind adhering to an object of consciousness with a clear mental focus?
William Mikulas, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, stated that “In Western psychology, mindfulness and concentration are often confused and confounded because, although in the last few years there has been a moderate interest in mindfulness, there has not been a corresponding interest in concentration. Hence, many mindfulness-based programs are actually cultivating both concentration and mindfulness, but all results are attributed to mindfulness.”