Here’s how Dan Harris, ABC News anchor and meditation advocate, explains mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a skill, generated most commonly through meditation, where you learn to see what’s happening in your head right now, clearly, so that you don’t get yanked around by it.
from episode 52 of Dan’s podcast, 10% Happier
Dan’s genius as a newsman is in his ability to cut to the pith, explaining things in a way that makes the reader feel smart. Unlike many attempts to define mindfulness, his doesn’t make use of specialized terms that require additional explanation.
That said, lemme analyze it anyway.
Mindfulness is a skill. We could also talk about it as an act or a state, but setting it up as a skill establishes one crucial feature: mindfulness can be learned with practice.
It’s most commonly generated through meditation. One of the first questions people ask is “what’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?” Meditation is any intentional effort to focus attention. By practicing a certain kind of meditation, one can grow one’s skill in mindfulness.
See what’s happening in your head, right now, clearly. This is Dan’s way of describing ‘awareness’, the first of two key ingredients of mindfulness. It’s about being aware of what’s happening in you mind: primarily thoughts, emotions, and judgments.
So that you don’t get yanked around by it. This covers the second key ingredient of mindfulness: once you’re aware of a thought or feeling, you can choose how to relate to it. The traditional word for the attitude one takes in mindfulness is ‘equanimity’.
The image of getting “yanked around” by your thoughts and feelings also sufficiently describes why you might give a shit about mindfulness. Getting yanked around by stuff sucks. Mindfulness can help that stop.