Mindfulness is one of those fancy sounding words that has a very simple meaning. In this case, probably more than one, but all the ways to use the word and think about it combine to define it. At the simplest level to be mindful means that you as a human being, in possession of but not in control of all of your senses and mental powers, try to watch life go by without intervening and making judgments.
If you are living a mindful life, you are living in the present moment as much as you possibly can, while at the same time being aware of what is going on in your mental landscape. If you can observe the way your mind drifts from the present and nudge it back, you are being mindful.
If you are practicing listening to others when they speak, you are living the mindful life. To be a good listener requires that you focus your attention on the speaker and not on what you will say in response or just to be talking. You need to be completely aware and in the present to be a mindful listener.
You are also being mindful when you are listening to yourself. This means when you are speaking – knowing what you are saying and why – but also when you are not speaking but thinking and talking to yourself. There is nothing wrong with being thoughtful while being mindful, but it is very difficult to do. A mindful person keeps trying.
The next step after and the opposite of listening to yourself is being quiet inside – stopping the inner dialogue that all of us have going on constantly. By learning to be mindful and hearing that cacophony in your head, you will be better able to turn it off, and to enjoy the peace – for a moment. Then it will come back, and you’ll have to start listening again.
Just as being a good listener involves being mindful, so does a general attempt at being attentive to the world outside. Our senses gather and bring in much more data that our brains can process, and some of it is important. When we miss what is happening out there because we are busy talking to ourselves or living in the past, we are not being mindful.
So, mindfulness means being in the present, but it also means specific ways to accomplish that and mental practices and exercises to get better at it. You can be living mindfully and still catch yourself reminiscing or worrying about the future. But you will try to bring that willful mind back to the here and now, to the task at hand, and into the moment – mindfully.