Mindfulness meditation uses ordinary sensory experience to develop skills of attention which can increase our baseline level of contentment. We take the world in through our eyes, our ears, and our bodies. We make sense of the world and our relationship to it through our mental images, internal conversations, and sensations in the body which seem to have emotional flavors.
We are all swimming in this sensory information, but most of us have very little familiarity with the various component parts, how they interact with each other, and the impact of our reactions to them. Mindfulness cultivates concentration so that we can pay closer attention to these details, clarity so that we can become more intimately familiar with them, and equanimity in order to struggle less with unpleasant aspects and derive more satisfaction from the pleasant ones.
Concentration is the ability to attend to what is considered relevant at a given time and to let go of what is determined to be irrelevant, any time you want, for as long as you want. Concentration power is the single most universally applicable and most deeply empowering skill that a human being can cultivate.
Clarity is the ability to distinguish and keep track of the components of sensory experience as they arise in various combinations, moment-by-moment. The basic building blocks of sensory experience include physical-type sensations in the body, emotional-type sensations in the body, external visual stimuli, mental images, external sounds, and internal conversations.
Equanimity is the skill of allowing things to be as they are. It can be thought of as an attitude of gentle matter-of-factness with regard to your sensory experience. It is described as a balanced state of non-interference directly in the middle between not something to be there and not wanting it to go away.
The aim of mindfulness training is not to achieve a temporary state of relaxation that is present when you meditate and then vanishes, but to gradually increase your baseline of concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity throughout the day — ordinary life in higher definition.
The effort and time commitment required is similar to what is needed to acquire any new set of skills such as learning to play a musical instrument, mastering a sport, or becoming fluent in a language. What makes the cultivation of these attentional skills unique is that they strengthen the foundation upon which we can build all other skills.
Consistent mindfulness practice cultivates a sensory palate that supports happiness or satisfaction regardless of conditions. Recent research provides evidence that "people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion."
*These terms and definitions come from Shinzen Young's basic mindfulness model.