Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular in businesses (Think Search Inside Yourself at Google and now available to other organizations), sports (See recent article on NBA team, Golden State Warriors’ adoption of mindfulness), education and even politics (Read the Mindful Nation UK report to bring mindfulness to British parliament). Yet, it is common to mistake mindfulness for simply being present or the opposite of mind wandering. Mindfulness is not the same as being focused. In the above video, Joseph Goldstein does a great job of explaining what mindfulness is and what it is not. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch the full video. Meanwhile, here are a few scholarly definitions of mindfulness to elaborate different aspects of  mindfulness as awareness, which is distinct from focus.

“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” Jon Kabat-Zinn

“We see mindfulness as a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of nonelaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance.” Bishop et al 2004

Langer’s (1997) definition of mindfulness focuses on the creation of new categories, openness to new information; and awareness of multiple perspective useful in problem solving.

While the above definitions are all useful in getting a sense that mindfulness is about awareness and the ability to see clearly, I want to draw attention to Goldstein’s explanation of mindfulness because it lays out a very important aspect of mindfulness, which is very commonly left out in definitions, media mentions and even practice.

“Mindfulness is the power of mind to observe free from desire and aversion.”

Goldstein systematically explains that observing through the filter of wanting and aversion is not mindfulness. For example, when practicing mindfulness you may be diligently observing your breath but underlying that may be a desire to get a certain result like peace or there may be some resistance to the practice such that you are eagerly anticipating its end. In either of these cases, you are observing the chosen object – your breath – through the lens of desire or aversion, in which case your experience is colored and you are not able to see clearly what is, just as it is. Mindfulness then is observation free from desire and aversion.

“Mindfulness is the ability to see clearly, our inner and outer reality, without the filter of craving and aversion.”

This aspect of mindfulness has huge implications in all domains of life. Lets take the example of a time you find yourself in a high-pressured meeting. In such a meeting, a focus on what each person is saying is good but doesn’t allow you to broadly observe what you and others in the room are experiencing. And even if you observe, but are unable to see the lens of old patterns of desire and aversion, you may continue to react based on old habits. It is the ability to see clearly without any kind of filters, what is happening in your environment and within you that gives you the space and clarity to make skillful choices. That is where you start to experience the benefits of mindfulness training, which allow you to sit with discomfort and pleasant situations with equal clarity and equanimity, not only in practice but all of life.

So the next time you practice mindfulness as a formal practice or in life, you can remind yourself to check in,

“What is the attitude of my mind in this moment?”

It is very likely that just asking the question can free you from that filter in that moment and allow you to fully be with the experience. Try it out, if you have not already, and please share your experience.