I have practised and taught mindfulness for over twenty years now. This is what I have learned about it personally.
Mindfulness is the practice of stopping and becoming fully aware of this present moment as if it is all that exists, because that is also the truth. I have discovered the importance of practising mindfulness with your heart, as much, if not more, than your mind, although it is the mind which initially we use to master the techniques and understanding.
Your love of the practice will grow as you uncover your fullest potential but that comes in fits and starts, one step forward and perhaps one back too then three forwards etc.
Stopping and becoming aware of your mind and its contents, using the breath as a pause, a full stop or comma during the day, to refocus what it is you want to achieve that day, that moment. I do this practice about a hundred times a day.
Use the natural reflex action of the deeper out breath, as a sigh, to let go of tensions, conflicts and aversions. Step back and recognise thoughts as they arise, and recognise them as separate from your consciousness. You can watch your thoughts and decide if you want them or not; are they keeping you on your goal or life path, or dragging you off it.
Eventually you can observe your emotions as they arise too, and decide how to respond to them or find use for them rather than be reactive to them and jerked around on a piece of chain by them. Unchain your heart and let it be free to love unconditionally.
However, what do you do with the thoughts that come in to distract you? A deep and regular practice of mindfulness and meditation allows you to get behind thoughts and emotions and see them as something other than you, something that your mind generates just like your ears hear sounds all the time too etc.
The mind is another sense organ if you like and it is up to us how much we filter it out and stand back from it. Think of thoughts as if they are visual illusions that you can look at for a long time before you see what else is there. Once you learn that you can be the observer of your own thoughts rather than merely the originator and responder, you can choose which ones to take interest in — to pay attention to — and having done that you can release non-relevant thoughts.
Sometimes those thoughts are lurking around in the subconscious so just stop and take a breath and wait for that thought to come to the surface. Once you can see it clearly you can decide if it is worth your attention or consideration. It may offer the clue to what holds you back too.
Don’t dismiss it if you don’t like it, instead ask it what it wants and how does it think it is helping you. You find over time that these thoughts stop arriving. New thoughts will be generated of course, the mind does what the mind does just like the ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and skin do what they do, process information all the time. It is far more important that you train them to do what you want, to pay attention in a particular way to the present moment and what it is you want to achieve in that moment.
Emotions are often a shadow of a thought or an attitude, a reflection of our life paradigm. Do you see life as mostly wonderful with a few challenging times or a trial to struggle through, and everything in between. DO you see life as something to be afraid of, as I did for so many decades, or an adventure waiting to happen, as I also found it on another level and with a developed mental paradigm?
However, the longer you practice, other things change too. Your values and priorities also change from what you thought they were to what they really are, you cut away all the clutter of desires and ambitions and learn to enjoy just being yourself, doing what gives you joy and what you need to do to fulfil your responsibilities to yourself and to others. And yes it really does work and yes this really does happen over time. It is the most glorious and wonderful experience of life in the moment that takes over, gradually and step by step. You feel all the false values dropping away from you, like skins you have shed trailing into the distance.
I remember once someone in my class came in and proudly announced that she had mindfully eaten six packets of crisps in a row. She had believed that she had mindfully eaten them because she had been fully aware of the eating choices and experiences. I did not make the point in the class because on one level she was displaying mindful awareness. And there is a huge BUT here. She was using the approach to defiantly do what she wanted to against her own well-being. One occasional packet of crisps like an occasional alcoholic drink are absolutely fine but six represents a eating disorder and a form of self harm developing. The issue was addressed indirectly in a later class about making healthy choices for our bodies and minds.
There is a constant vigilance involved in mindfulness, related to motivation for actions and choices, related to our greater welfare too. we have to consciously make these choices and not do them defiantly although I confess I have been known to realise this in myself too. We have to place a higher value on our self so that we can make the better choices.
That vigilance becomes a natural way of approaching life and takes less and less effort over time. Nowadays i find myself even hearing the choice laid out in my mind for me, do this or that and this is why. It has proved to be an interesting development in consciousness
YOU discover yourself and whole new depths and values. You heal those old wounds that have been lurking around, for decades in some cases, often lying hidden in the darkest recesses of your consciousness or unconsciousness, lying there like toxic waste, sabotaging your present moment, your plans and aspirations.
One never becomes total master of all emotions or thoughts but instead swaps the roller-coaster life for the evenly balanced one.
You gradually realise you can make better and informed choices in most things and you stop trying to control life on the outside since your locus on control is now largely internal.
I can do this pretty much all the time except when I get triggered by something and then I revert to old default modes but I am now working on these specifically.
Instead learn to relax into whatever life brings. You still get to make decisions and plans but you are no longer attached to their outcome