Mindfulness is so popular now, but what is it? Different teachers offer their own definitions, but one basic description would be that two skills are involved: the ability to rest the mind on a chosen object and the awareness of whatever is arising in experience.
To cultivate the first skill, you choose an object (like the physical sensation of the breath at the nostrils, whatever sounds you’re hearing, the contact between your feet and the ground as you walk, etc.). Then you just pay attention. Then you get distracted. And then the magic of meditation happens: you develop the ability to bring your mind back to your object, time and again, until it gets easier to rest your attention with fewer distractions.
The second skill—bare awareness of the contents of your experience—is related to the first. Every time your mind wanders off your object of meditation, it’s awareness that realizes you’ve become distracted. Once your mind is resting more quietly, then you can turn more of your attention to awareness of the flow of sensations, thoughts, etc., through your mind at any given time.
As each of these skills begins to unfold, it enhances your practice of the other. And as your formal meditation practice strengthens your ability to be present to your own experience, you’ll most likely find yourself having moments of deeper presence in daily life–which is, in the end, what meditation practice is all about.