There is a common mis-conception abroad: that mindfulness is about emptying your mind.
It is not. You cannot empty your mind. If you did, how would you know that? The very effort of trying to push away thoughts makes them push back stronger. The effort itself arises from the thought, “I must not have that thought.”
You are fighting thoughts with thoughts which is like trying to extinguish a fire with a match.
Mindfulness is a particular form of meditation in which we are exercising and improving the faculty of self-awareness. Noticing that we are on board a particular train of thought, we allow what already is, the occurrence of that thought, to be. We then intentionally direct our attention where we want it to go, usually to an awareness of our breath.
The same with feelings. Allowing them to be as they are, things change. Everything is changing all the time. The best way to get a feeling to hang around is to resist it. The best way to destroy a feeling of happiness is to hang on to it.
Mindfulness arises in any moment when we are able to witness the thoughts, feelings and sensations that have already arisen and let them be. “I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts. I am the space in which the thoughts occur.”
Exercising our self-awareness in this way strengthens specific parts of the brain. The brain changes shape. These changes are shown to be associated with better memory, learning, focus, emotional stability, empathy, sense of self. And so on…
Perhaps the biggest benefit that accrues from mindful awareness of our moment by moment experience is a greater sense of compassion towards ourselves, and in this way, towards others.
If ever there was a time in history when we needed this, it must be now.