Mindfulness and the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique come from different traditions (Buddhist and Vedic, respectively), but more importantly, they have other goals. Though there are many variations of mindfulness, the general goal is to train the mind to stay in the present moment by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgement. On the other hand, the TM technique (with only one version) is designed to direct your attention inward, beyond belief, and doesn’t involve any focus or concentration.
Mindfulness can be learned through reading a book or attending a community-run meditation class. It can also be learned through participation in clinical programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. TM is taught exclusively by certified teachers.
Clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher Donna Rockwell succinctly answered this question in the New York Times’s bestseller “Strength in Stillness”.
“While I think mindfulness is ‘mind training,’ TM is more like taking the mind to an amazing spa.”
Clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher
Here is her excerpt from the book:
“For me, mindfulness has been a boot camp training of reining in the tendency of the mind to wander. You notice that tendency to wander and, albeit very tenderly, bring the mind back. There’s this notion that the mind is a wild horse that is constantly bucking in a very small corral. The goal of mindfulness is to make that corral larger and create a wide-open pasture in which to train the mind to come back to the present moment. After twenty years of practising mindfulness, I am better trained to be in the here and now because of all my hours and hours and weekends and days of just sitting in one spot and looking at a dot on the floor. I am better able to activate my brain’s prefrontal cortex and have an awareness that I am having amygdala stimulation.
Now that I’ve added TM to my practice, it’s a completely different thing. While mindfulness is not mind training, TM is more like taking the mind to a fantastic spa. It felt like my brain was settling into a nice warm bath from the first time. After twenty minutes, I return to my life with greater peace and well-being.
I think the practices beautifully complement each other. Granted, mindfulness is not twenty minutes. When you go on a mindfulness retreat, you sit for forty minutes, then you walk for ten, more or less, you sit for another forty minutes, you walk for ten, you sit for forty minutes, you get up again—all the while becoming aware of wandering thoughts and coming back to the present moment. Like I said: boot camp.
“You’ve worked so hard all these years to be a more enlightened person. Now here’s a meditation practice where you can simply sit for twenty minutes and become naturally refreshed by allowing the mind to settle down.” …Then, after TM’s twenty-minute mental spa treatment, I return to my day revitalised and ready for what awaits.”