As the term “mindfulness” is spreading beyond Buddhist circles, a few words of definition may be helpful. Mindfulness is a basic human quality — a way of learning to pay attention to whatever is happening in our lives. Not by looking back on it (“what a stressful day”) or looking forward to it (“when my schedule gets easier”), but by seeing, feeling, sensing what happens to us in real-time.
Mindfulness is “a systematic method aimed at cultivating clarity, insight, and understanding … a way to experientially learn to take better care of ourselves by exploring and understanding the interplay of mind and body and mobilizing our own inner resource for learning, growing, and healing.”
Mindfulness practice originates in Buddhist tradition where it occupies a central place as a way to reduce suffering and cultivate compassion. It is also a universal human capacity to foster clear thinking and open-heartedness. As such, it requires no particular religious or cultural belief system.
Research in medicine and psychology over the last three decades shows that “much cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illness is caused or exacerbated by modifiable lifestyle factors. … An aim of mindfulness practice is to take greater responsibility for one’s life choices. … For intractable disease, meditative techniques that alter and refine awareness may modulate the subjective experience of pain or improve the ability to cope with pain and disability.'
 Santorelli, S.F., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Introduction. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) professional education and training: curriculum and supporting materials. University of Massachusetts Medical School.  Ludwig, D.S., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Mindfulness in medicine. JAMA, 300(11), 1350-1352. image: gardenrain.wordpress.com