For all the current hype about mindfulness and meditation – the does-it work or doesn’t-it work, the neuroscience and the pseudoscience – at heart what’s at stake is our capacity to pay attention. What mindfulness practices show us most simply is quite how little attention most of us are paying to anything.
It’s our capacity to pay exquisite attention to thoughts and feelings that opens up the possibility of having them rather than being had by them. And this is the foundational difference between a certain kind of slavery and a certain kind of freedom.
Put another way, practicing paying attention purposefully and repeatedly over time (usually a long time) opens up the possibility of learning to respond to what you’re experiencing rather than reacting habitually to it.
And this is important because being stuck in repetitive habitual reactions is an enormous constraint on your capacity to engage – meaningfully, powerfully, purposefully, and compassionately – with the world.