The scientific literature on mindfulness is growing exponentially, with a new peer-reviewed article now published nearly every day. Mindfulness is evidently good for almost everything. It seems to improve our health, relationships, happiness, ability to think clearly, and dozens of other things that matter in our lives. How is this possible?
The far reaching relevance of mindfulness hinges on its ability to influence our attention. In any moment, there are countless things occurring in our environment, body, and mind. Attention acts as a filter so that we become consciously aware of only a tiny fraction of the things we could experience. When attention operates effectively, we become aware of the things that deserve further consideration while everything else slips past unnoticed.
This filtering of experience is true not only of what we see and hear, but also of what we think. We have vast storehouses of memories, all immediately available to fill the limited space of our conscious minds. Many things we could think about rarely if ever enter our minds. And of the nearly constant stream of thoughts that do arise, we elaborate and entertain only a small proportion.
Attention is a natural ability that allows each of us to navigate our environments and our lives. Attention accomplishes small wonders each time you drive or hold a conversation. Yet almost no one uses attention optimally. Can you focus on what you like, when you like, for however long you like? How might your life be different if you could more skillfully guide your moment-to-moment experience? Mindfulness uses attention to influence what we experience and how we relate to those experiences, so it has the potential to impact almost everything in our lives.