What Is Mindfulness?

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Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness is often spoken of as the heart of Buddhist meditation. It’s not about Buddhism, but about paying attention. That’s what all meditation is, no matter what tradition or particular technique is used.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.


Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.


Mindfulness is a practice which supports the capacity to stay focused on what you are doing as you are doing it. It’s a powerful antidote to the destructible nature of the mind and the information-overload in our digital world. When practiced regularly, it can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, reducing stress and enhancing mental capacity.

Mindfulness is a naturally occurring human capacity. It is initially practiced and cultivated through meditation, but can also be applied to daily activities such as eating, walking or working. Mindfulness can be cultivated through various means including mindfulness exercises, physical activity, narrative, dialogue, poetry, and music. Mindfulness is the simple, yet challenging discipline of noticing what you are doing when you are doing it and becoming master, rather than slave, to the impulses of your mind.


The (All-Purpose) Definition

Here’s an all-purpose definition that treats mindfulness as a quality that every human being already possesses, rather than something we have to conjure up:

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

While mindfulness is innate, it can be cultivated through proven techniques, particularly seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation (it’s also possible lying down but often leads to sleep); short pauses we insert into everyday life; and merging meditation practice with other activities, such as yoga or sports.

When we meditate it doesn’t help to fixate on the benefits, but rather to just do the practice, and yet there are benefits or no one would do it. When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.

Mindfulness meditation gives us a time in our lives when we can suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness—to ourselves and others.

Mindfulness is not only timely. It also has the potential to become a transformative social phenomenon, for these key reasons:

Anyone can do it. Mindfulness practice cultivates universal human qualities and does not require anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone can benefit and it’s easy to learn.

It’s a way of living. Mindfulness is more than just a practice. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do—and it cuts down needless stress. Even a little makes our lives better.

It’s evidence-based. We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.

It sparks innovation. As we deal with our world’s increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, resilient, low-cost responses to seemingly intransigent problems.

So, how should you start if you want to try mindfulness meditation?

Any way you feel like beginning it is good. The important thing to understand is that it’s not about a particular method or technique.

The real way to start is to be open to experimenting or playing with the possibility of noticing what you’re experiencing in this moment and not to try to feel differently. Most people think that to meditate, I should feel a particular special something, and if I don’t, then I must be doing something wrong.

That is a common but incorrect view of meditation. Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it. We are talking about awareness itself: a whole repertoire of ways of knowing that virtually all come through the senses.


My working definition of mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment — non-judgmentally. And the non-judgmental part is the kicker, because we’ve got ideas and opinions about virtually everything. Our consciousness is almost always colored by our likes and dislikes. All highly conditioned, habitual behaviors really comes down to this: do I like it or not, do I want more or do I want to escape? That’s all going on below the surface of awareness and it runs our lives.

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~Jon Kabat Zinn


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