Issues in modern secular classifications of mindfulness and meditation

Although the terms mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions between them. Mindfulness can be defined as a method, or as a state that represents the outcome of practice of the method, or as a stable trait (Nash and Newberg 2013). Many definitions of mindfulness emphasize it as a set of techniques that cultivate cognitive control skills leading to a state of ongoing present-moment attention. For example, Bishop and colleagues (2004) defined mindfulness as involving the self-regulation of attention on the immediate experience of mental events with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance. They regard mindfulness as a form of mental training developed by meditation practice, though psychotherapy that interferes with experiential avoidance can also cultivate this skill. This latter point, that meditation practice is not necessary to cultivate mindfulness, is an important one for clinical applications of mindfulness because, as reviewed below, some therapeutic applications involve mindfulness skills but not mindfulness meditation as such.

Meditation is a broader term, encompassing a set of practices and their associated outcomes. Because meditation has been practiced for many millennia in many cultures throughout the world, a unitary definition is difficult, even within the circumscribed domain of clinical applications of MM. Part of the confusion arises from the use of the term meditation to refer to both methods and resultant states of awareness (Nash and Newberg 2013). For example, meditation refers to techniques, such as breath focus or mantra repetition, but also to outcomes, such as refined states of consciousness. Walsh and Shapiro (2006) defined meditation as a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control. The outcome of these practices is to develop general mental well-being and capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration. This definition, with its emphasis on control of mental processes for psychological well-being, though intended to be integrative of Eastern and Western traditions, probably better describes secular meditation as used in clinical practice rather than encompassing Eastern meditation traditions in general, which tend to espouse meditation as techniques for ultimately transcending mental processes to achieve nondual awareness (Dunne 2011; Josipovic 2010; Travis and Shear 2010a).

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