A Brief Definition of Mindfulness
David S. Black
Empirical studies have examined the construct of mindfulness for almost 40 years, and a conceptual definition of mindfulness has been continuously revised and clarified over this period.
What we currently term mindfulness in the area of contemplative science, and the corresponding techniques of its
cultivation, stem from Eastern introspective
psychological practices, specifically Buddhist
psychology, which made reference to the concept over 2,500 years ago.
Mindfulness is a term stemming from the Pali language, whereby Sati is combined with Sampajana, and this term is translated to mean
awareness, circumspection, discernment, and
These linguistic renderings have been considered by scholars to suggest that
mindfulness means to remember to pay
attention to what is occurring in one’s immediate experience with care and
As the concept of mindfulness was gradually
introduced into the realm of Western science,
many thought mindfulness and its associated meditation practices - meditation is one method used to develop mindfulness were esoteric, bound to religious beliefs, and a capacity attainable only by certain people.
However, several decades of research
methodology and scientific discovery
have defrayed these myths; mindfulness is
now widely considered to be an inherent quality
of human consciousness.
That is, a capacity of attention and awareness oriented to the present moment that varies in degree within and between individuals, and can
be assessed empirically and independent of religious, spiritual, or cultural beliefs.
One of the most well-‐recognized Western definitions of mindfulness comes from
Dr. Jon Kabat-‐Zinn, one of the central founders of the field for which I coin the term
here mindfulness science.
He defined mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particularway:
on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”.
His use of the term mindfulness has become the
landmark definition; however, similar conceptual definitions were soon to follow his work.
These definitions include
(a)an open and receptive attention to and
awareness of what is occurring in the present
(b) an awareness that arises through intentionally attending in an open, accepting,
and discerning way to whatever is arising in the
(c) an attention that is receptive to the whole field of awareness and remains in an open state so that it can be directed to currently experienced sensations, thoughts, emotions, and memorie; and
(d) waking up from a life lived on automatic pilot and based in habitual responding.
A common theme shared among all these definitions is a general receptivity and full engagement with the present moment.
To further grasp the definition of mindfulness, the term can be contrasted with experiences of
mindlessness that occur when attention and awareness capacities are scattered due to
preoccupation with past memories or future plans and worries; this, in turn, leading to a
limited awareness and attention to experiences
in the present moment.
Although these definitions have proven
vitally useful to help build awareness of
mindfulness in the general population and
increase its application in healthcare settings,
serious attention to mindfulness by the scientific community was not given until more recently when the concept was translated in to
measureable terms, or given an operational
Major strides have been made in just the last
decade to provide a valid operational definition
In the last decade, researchers have dedicated attention to an empirically based operational definition of mindfulness.
For example, in the year 2003, a series of
psychometric development studies provided the first valid and reliable measure of dispositional mindfulness called the
Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS).
Other measures of Definition of
Mindfulness mindful experience