In the West, mindfulness is secular practice that engages the mind and body when they are so often disengaged. In the East, is a non-secular concept that has been practiced for thousands of years.
Our minds and bodies are so often disengaged in that while we may always be engaged in thinking and moving, we may be unaware of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as they are happening. This happens to everyone.
When I first became a mom, I was very much present and very much not present with the present. I was constantly trying to soak up every ounce of my firstborn but was also constantly worrying, charting, and planning ahead for things that I thought needed to happen. Being sleep deprived, half delirious, and still wanting to make sure I was providing enough milk to my son, I became somewhat obsessive about tracking feedings and poops on my phone. In those moments of tracking, which would sometimes occur during feedings, I would try to escape my phone and glance down to make eye contact with my baby when he would be looking up at me. I assumed, of course, that’s what a “good” mother does.
Even though this moment of tracking was just one moment in time, the moment was actually consumed by many moments, as my mind was preoccupied with thoughts about what I needed to do to best care for him. I started holding myself to the behaviors I thought I should be doing as a mother (judgments) rather than just being as I am as a mother.
The spontaneous moments of simply engaging with my son were by far (and still are) the most rewarding. I was tuned in, attending to the shape of his eyes, the fragility of his fingers, and the connection of his body to mine.
This is mindfulness. We spend the majority of the time in a mindless state, thinking about or evaluating our experience, or shutting down into our autopilot default system. Mindfulness is turning on our awareness and creating a default system that is present, aware, and nonjudgmental.