On my continued journey in exploring the meaning of mindfulness I’ve been re-reading several of the articles in the Contemporary Buddhism special issue on the topic from last year. As I reference these I’m adding them to a new section of the references on this website called ‘mindfulness‘.
It’s taken a while for me to get my head around it, but I’m now understanding that the popular definition (by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others) which includes the idea of attending non-judgementally to the present moment is problematic because it just represents one form of mindfulness.
It is useful to cultivate the ability to observe the here-and-now in a way that doesn’t evaluate (trying to keep ‘positive’ thoughts and feelings and avoid ‘negative’ ones, for example).
However, we can also be mindful of things that are not present. Given that mindfulness is something that we try to cultivate in everything, we would also try to engage with our memories and future plans mindfully. And there are specific mindfulness meditations which are not present-focused (for example when we bring to mind other people to cultivate loving-kindness, or when we meditate on the fact of our death).
Also, we can evaluate in a mindful way, for example when we try to determine the ethical thing to do, or when we notice unhelpful habits of mind and attempt to change these.