Mindfulness Meditation is a practice of strengthening the habit of present-moment awareness of what's happening within and around us, and diminishing the habit of wandering around in our future or our past.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn
Most of the time, most of us hold our attention on one of two things: the past, or the future (and sometimes both at the same time). This is a survival instinct developed over millenia. We all have it.
About the Past
The past is full of successes and failures, trauma and joy, happiness and grief. We focus on these things to increase our chances of doing two important things: replicating past happiness, and avoiding future threats.
When our attention rests on our past, however, we bring some degree of our emotional responses to past events into our present moment. The stresses of past difficulties or traumas can resonate within us, and when we bring them into the present moment they can affect us just as deeply, physically and emotionally, as they did when they happened. Likewise, the desire to relive past happiness can give rise to the pain of its loss or absence.
This is one source of our current, daily stress and anxiety.
About the Future
The future is full of opportunity and, of course, potential threats. Most of us face the future with more apprehension than anticipation, even if the potential for happiness outweighs our potential threats. Most of us focus more keenly on the threats.
When our attention is on the future, we conjure events along with all the emotions, fears, or desires they might cause if they were to occur. We bring this into our present moment. Responses to future events can be as real, and sometimes even more powerful, than they might be if and when the event actually occurs - which it may, or may not. In any event, our reactions in the present to possible future events will probably not prepare us for the real thing, so the value of that exercise is probably negligible.
This is another source of our current, daily anxiety and stress.
The Present Moment
When our attention is on the present, on what's happening within us and around us in each moment, we are in the only place where we can actually make a difference. In the present moment, we can act with purpose and intention to work on healing from past wounds. We can act with purpose and intention to improve the chances that positive things might happen, or that we might avoid the threats we fear.
Mindful awareness of whatever arises within us and around us in each moment provides a space where we might better manage our emotional responses to the things we regret, the things we miss, our fears of future threats, and our meaningful, purposeful, present-moment actions that could actually influence the way our future unfolds.
Mindfulness meditation hones and strengthens our ability to achieve this.