“Transcendental meditation” is one of those buzzwords that everyone seems to be talking about, like “vegan”, “keto” or “jiu-jitsu”, but no one seems to be able to define exactly what it is. “Mindfulness meditation” is often mentioned in the same breath; so what’s the difference between the two types of meditation?
To understand what transcendental meditation is, it might be easier to define mindfulness meditation first.
Putting it plainly, mindfulness meditation encourages its practitioners to be fully emerged in the present moment, without judgment, in both everyday life and during meditation itself. That is to say, instead of spending our lives in our heads, thinking about our fears, anxieties and what we are having for dinner, we should be focusing on what’s in front of our eyes.
Mindfulness meditation is practiced by repeatedly returning our consciousness to the present moment, for example, by focusing on the breath, parts of our bodies, or an object. In the process of doing so, we are able to observe our thought patterns and the truths they reveal about our anxious or depressive inclinations.
The mental effort exerted in letting go of repetitive thoughts and returning our focus to a body part is a sort of mental exercise that promotes conscious choices over mindless entanglement with negative thought patterns.
In letting go of these thoughts, and in the inevitable return to them once our focus wavers, some practitioners of mindfulness meditation are able to reach a state of mental stillness.
This is what so-called “transcendence” feels like.
Yet reaching this state of transcendence is not the goal of mindfulness meditation - the continued process of returning our focus to the present is the objective.
On the other hand, transcendental meditation is for those that find this exercise excruciating. For those with a restless mind, there is a simple tool in transcendental meditation that helps them achieve the mental stillness that brings a deep relief from stresses - the mantra.
The mantra is a sound with no meaning (but sounds positive - if that makes sense) that the practitioner repeats silently for 20 minutes. In doing so, the practitioner is typically able to reach a state of mental stillness which may elude them in mindfulness meditation. Instead of forcefully training our minds to come back to the present moment, the mantra is used to elevate our consciousness above our thoughts.
The reason for prescribing 20-minute sessions has to do with our biological clocks. Without going into unnecessary details here, we suggest committing to two 20-minute sessions a day, for a minimum of 30 daily practices, before making up your mind about whether transcendental meditation (or mindfulness meditation) is right for you.
One way or another, we need to find ways to get mental relief in this crazy world.