What is Mindfulness?

What is mindfulness? Whether you are first hearing of mindfulness or have been wondering for a while exactly what it means, it is helpful to have a definition handy. It is even more helpful to have multiple definitions.

Here are 20 definitions of mindfulness from various sources, including individuals and groups, in no particular order. Some of these might be more helpful than others, and you do not have to agree with all of them.

Dictionary and Encyclopedia Definitions:

The first place to look for a definition of mindfulness is in the dictionary. Here are some dictionary/encyclopedia definitions of mindfulness.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”


“The state or quality of being mindful or aware of something.”

Cambridge Dictionary

“The practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”


“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”


Synonyms include: alertness, carefulness, caution, circumspection, concentration, concern, conscientiousness, consideration, diligence, direction, discrimination, effort, enthusiasm, exactness, exertion, fastidiousness, forethought, heed, heedfulness, interest, management, meticulousness, nicety, pains, particularity, precaution, prudence, regard, scrupulousness, solicitude, thought, trouble, vigilance, wariness, watchfulness.

Those are helpful as a starting point, but what does mindfulness mean beyond dry dictionary definitions?

Definitions of Mindfulness According to Organizations :

Let’s look at what mindfulness means to organizations dedicated to mindfulness.


“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World

“Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself.”

White Wind Zen Community

“Mindfulness is wordless. Mindfulness is meeting the moment as it is, moment after moment after moment, wordlessly attending to our experiencing as it actually is. It is opening to not just the fragments of our lives that we like or dislike or view as important, but the whole of our experiencing.”

Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles

“Mindful Awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.”

Now that we have seen how various organizations define mindfulness, let’s take a look at how some individuals define mindfulness.

A Take Home Message

As we examine the different definitions of mindfulness above, a few patterns stick out. The most obvious is that mindfulness has to do with paying attention. Several definitions underscore the importance of judgment in mindfulness – that is, that mindfulness involves nonjudgment.

Some definitions of mindfulness above focus internally by directing attention to the body and thoughts. Other definitions focus externally by pointing to what is going on around you. Some emphasize the importance of both approaches.

Finally, two definitions (from Daniel J. Siegel and the MARC at UCLA) use “mindfulness” and “mindful awareness” interchangeably. We might even consider “mindful awareness” to be the shortest, simplest definition of mindfulness.

As you can see, while there are many similarities between definitions, mindfulness is defined in different ways by different people. Which definitions of mindfulness do you agree with, and which definitions do you disagree with? How do you define mindfulness?