Mindfulness is the act of bringing your awareness to whatever you're experiencing in the present moment. A common definition of mindfulness used in counselling and therapy is: The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to things as they are.
When we don't pay attention to the present moment, we go through life relatively absentmindedly, often distracted and on auto-pilot. We've all encountered moments of “mindlessness” when, instead of paying attention to what we are doing, our minds are off somewhere else: daydreaming, dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, or juggling so many things at once that our mind is all over the place.
Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to whatever we are doing while we are doing it, and whatever we are experiencing while we are experiencing it. We acknowledge whatever is going on in our lives, in the outside world and our inner experience, as it is happening.
When we practice mindfulness, we learn to deal with whatever is going on in our lives, and with our thoughts and emotions, without becoming overwhelmed. By paying attention to our experience from moment to moment we can start fully living our lives in the present, instead of functioning automatically and unconsciously, getting lost in our thoughts, or escaping into memories of the past or plans for the future.
Mindfulness meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, but since mindfulness simply involves paying attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be brought to anything you do. You can become more mindful without meditation, and even if you do practice mindfulness meditation, the benefits of mindfulness are greatest when mindfulness is incorporated into everyday life. Many of my clients never practice meditation and find other ways to bring mindfulness into their lives. You can read more about mindfulness on my blog.