By Wendy Rosenfeldt
People are searching for ways to find balance amidst the busyness of life and information overload. Trying to stay present or being mindful are popular pursuits but there are different approaches to attaining this goal.
Mindfulness Meditation and Transcendental Meditation® are both popular meditation techniques and claim to improve quality of life. While they may aim for a similar outcome; to enjoy life free from worries and to find a sense of inner peace; the paths to their realisation are completely opposite.
Mindfulness is about bringing the awareness to the present situation in a non-judgemental way, with the intention to be mentally present rather than lost in thoughts or anxieties about what has been or what may happen.
Mindfulness meditation uses techniques to focus on the breath, notice bodily sensations and experience the present state of the emotions. It requires some effort to purposely focus your attention and to stay present.
In comparison, in Transcendental Meditation or TM there is no attempt to control the mind.TM uses the natural tendency of the mind, and while it may be thought that the mind’s nature is to wander, like a distracted toddler, when it finds something enjoyable it is satisfied and will remain focused. When the child finds some mud to play with or a puddle to splash it is absorbing, at least for a while. Likewise when we are enjoying a film or a book, we find that our awareness is completely caught up in the experience.
The state of infinite happiness for the mind is the state of inner bliss or unbounded awareness, and given the direction the mind will naturally settle down to experience this state.
During TM the mind effortlessly transcends, or goes beyond the experience of the surroundings, bodily sensations, awareness of time and space and even the process of thinking. As we come out of this experience, we are aware that we have been ‘away’ and have a deep sense of relaxation. When we are in a deep state of transcendence, there is no experience of “I am” anything because we have gone beyond the experience of the individual “I”.
In day to day life there is no attempt to remember to be mindful, in fact TM meditators report that they flow through the day with a greater sense of ease, they experience being more present in the moment but without any intention to do so. They find that they are less self conscious while experiencing a sense of unbounded awareness. Life becomes more automatic.
Transcendental Meditation is a powerful took to reduce stress and anxiety.
In comparison Mindfulness techniques are all about remembering to stay present in stressful situations. This can be challenging as stress has been shown to shut down the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thinking and acts like a filter for impulsive behaviour. In the heat of the moment, this area of the brain goes off line and we are more likely to act without thinking and may say things we later regret. Staying present and behaving in the way we would like is often not a choice when we are triggered by stressful events.
With regular practice of transcending, the awareness is no longer confined to that of the individual self. The sense of fulfilment is not determined by the ups and downs of day to day life. Like playing a game, where you are moving your piece around the board, and you may want it to win but your overall sense of happiness is not tied up in the outcome of the game. You are aware that you are more than just this character in the board game. Likewise transcending develops a sense of peace within the challenges of life and ability to enjoy the bigger picture.