Mindfulness, also called wise attention, helps us see what we’re adding to our experiences, not only during meditation sessions but also elsewhere. These add-ons might take the form of projecting into the future (my neck hurts, so I’ll be miserable forever), foregone conclusions (there’s no point in asking for a raise), rigid concepts (you’re either for me or against me), unexamined habits (you feel tense and reach for a cookie) or associative thinking (you snap at your daughter and then leap to your own childhood problems and then on to deciding you’re just like your mom). I’m not saying we should abolish concepts or associations; that’s not possible, nor is it desirable. There are times when associative thinking leads to creative problem-solving, or works of art. But we want to see clearly what we’re doing as we’re doing it, to be able to distinguish our direct experience from the add-ons, and to know that we can choose whether to heed them or not. Maybe there is no point in asking for a raise, maybe there is. You can’t know until you separate your conditioned assumption—I never get what I ask for—from the unadorned facts of your work situation.
A very good place to become familiar with the way mindfulness works is always close by—our own bodies. Investigating physical sensations is one of the best ways for us to learn to be present with whatever is happening in the moment, and to recognize the difference between direct experience and the add-ons we bring to it.