Asking someone to define mindfulness is kind of like asking, “What does chocolate taste like?” Or “What does your favorite song sound like?” Definitions can only give you a small
idea of what the real experience is like. Just reading about mindfulness without experiencing it yourself is like going to a restaurant to read the menu, without tasting any of the food. Just as the point of going to a restaurant is to taste the food, the point of mindfulness is to experience it for yourself.
That said, there are some descriptions of mindfulness that might be a good place to start. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition
of mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way:
on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (1994, 4) is simple and to the point. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is about shifting out of autopilot and awakening to the here and now. Mindfulness is about freeing yourself from regrets about the past and worries about the future.
Here are a few other ways of describing mindfulness: “Being present” “Awareness” “Awakening” “Concentration plus attention” “Seeing clearly” “Compassionate awareness” “Openheartedness” “Loving presence.”
People in every culture around the world have recognized the wisdom of openhearted, present-moment awareness, whether or not they called it “mindfulness,” for thousands of years. Everyone can be mindful. You have probably already experienced moments of natural mindfulness. Perhaps you’ve had times, without even trying to, when you were deeply aware of what you were doing; the only thing that mattered was the present moment—the past and the future seemed to disappear—and you were filled with gratitude for being alive. Maybe this happens for you when you play sports. Or maybe you experience this kind of awareness when you play a musical instrument, when you pet your dog or cat gently, or when you listen to your favorite song. Whether you realized it or not in those moments, you already know how to be mindful!
Living life more mindfully can help you to handle stress
when it arises, and also experience life more fully, with more joy and gratitude