Finishing writing my book last week, feeling like the baby's head is out but the lower half is still in my and I'm pushing as hard as I can. I'm still trying to get my head around explaining mindfulness (how I see it). Some people might say it's about becoming present, others that they feel calmer but for me the Golden Fleece of practising mindfulness is acquiring the skill of paying attention. I know it sounds easy but trust me we don't automatically know how to do it.
We can only pay attention to something for on average about 1.2 seconds and then our eye, driven by our mind, flits to something else. Our minds aren't built to linger, we keep flitting; it's the mission statement of every cell in our bodies to keep checking the surroundings for possible danger otherwise we wouldn't be here, we would have been on some kebab millions of years ago. Remember, our brain has no idea the caveman days are past, so, God bless it, it's still vigilant for predators. If we want to be able to keep focused we need to train ourselves just like we do any skill. How many sunsets have I missed while staring right at them? If I see an American Bald Eagle or my kids' kids doing a school play, I want to be able to tear my mind away from the velcro of mundanity (where it usually lurks) and pull focus to the only thing worth watching on earth at that moment. Even my cat Socks can focus. He can stay riveted on a piece of string for days on end. So I sit there practising mindfulness each day just to do what my cat does so naturally.
The main objective of mindfulness is not only to pay attention but to do it in the moment, without judgment. You can run, you can hide from those thoughts and feelings but they're still down there churning away. You may believe you're having a hunky-dory time, with the perfect kids/wife/teeth but someday if you don't look into the darkness in the basement of your brain, it will erupt spewing lava everywhere.
I met a man who I believed was at the pinnacle of success, someone in the Fortune Five Hundred who sat on at least 50 prestigious boards; he ended up having a heart attack and when his wife went to visit him in the hospital, she found a woman tending him with a sponge .... who turned out to be his other wife, who had three children. This type of person, believes himself to be way above us pitiful mortals and above the law. He's completely unconscious of his behaviour; usually these people are brought to their knees by their own hubris. Had he learned to pay attention he would have become conscious and this type of thing wouldn't have happened to him. He would have been aware that some day the two wives would meet and sue his pants off. So I guess I'm saying, for me, mindfulness is waking up to what's happening in your mind before anyone else does.