What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has become part of our lexicon. It’s been on the cover of Time Magazine, is being integrated in schools and businesses, and recommended by doctors for a variety of conditions.  But what exactly is mindfulness?

There are so many different definitions and understanding of what mindfulness is. My understanding of it changes over time. In some ways it is ineffable; it is an internal experience that is almost impossible to put into words. And, I will try to anyway! In this moment, I define mindfulness as remembering to cultivate embodied, non-judgmental awareness of the present moment experience. Let’s take this apart:

Remembering If we have to remember something then it means we have the tendency to forget it. That is a relief for me because when I forget to be mindful I am more compassionate with myself. And I know I have the choice to remember to come back.

Cultivate Mindfulness takes cultivation. When we cultivate a seed to become a plant, we commit to take a variety of steps so that it will bear fruit. It is the same with mindfulness, we see it as a process that takes effort and commitment.

Embodied There is emphasis on being connected to our physical experience and not lost in our heads.  (Check in right now: can you feel your feet?) We spend so much time thinking, which is normal, but often at the expense of our body-wisdom. When we truly get to know what’s happening in the body, we have more information which helps us respond appropriately in each moment.

Non-judgmental We accept thing as they arise without labeling them as good or bad. We try to let go of reactivity. We notice how resistance causes suffering, and that if we witness stimulus from a place of non-identification, we can find more peace.

Awareness A broad way of seeing and knowing what is happening. Sometimes referred to as witness-consciousness, we’re being asked to observe experience without becoming entangled in it.

Present Moment Right now. And now. And now. Not resting in the past or reaching towards the future. (What can you hear in this moment? How about in this one?)

Experience Something is happening and you are a part of it.

Everyone has the potential to experience mindfulness. What conditions are supportive for each of us to do this work is individual. If it seems daunting, maybe focus on one of the concepts I highlighted. You can ask yourself questions like:

“What helps me remember to do something?”

“How do I know if I am in my body or in my head?”

“Is my attention on what is in front of me, or lost in the past or the future?”

This is my current definition of mindfulness, and, like any aspect of practice, it’s important that you try it on for yourself, and see what you notice in your direct experience. Find your own felt-experience of mindfulness.