I went running the other day and thought of mindfulness. My thinking about mindfulness wasn't a good thing. It came about because of the fact that I was distracted while running. I was in my own world and wasn't paying attention to the uneven sidewalk. I tripped and twisted my ankle. Luckily, my ankle rebounded quickly but it got me to thinking about the true meaning and utility of mindfulness.
We hear a lot about mindfulness: what it is; how to be mindful; why it's good. But, honestly the message of being in the moment never really fully sank in for clear applicability, except for during meditation when I was mindful of my thoughts for release. It was hard to stop my day - a freight train of sorts - and suddenly become mindful of what was occurring around me and in me. Even having a reasonable grasp on my emotional state, sometimes during the heat of the action and always retrospectively, didn't make me appreciate a pressing necessity of mindfulness. As a practical concept, mindfulness was eluding me.
Until I tripped. After hurting myself badly, I realized that mindfulness is the system which keeps us aware. We can follow our trains of thoughts engendered by internal or external stimuli, and these can be wonderful to trail. But, as organisms, there are times and places for us for daydreaming, for following the wanderings of the mind. And because, as organisms, we live in and engage with a dynamically real and changing world, there is an often greater time and place for mindfulness. Mindfulness is not simply for spiritual moments or meditation. Mindfulness, really, may be most useful when engaging with one's environment, consistently choosing to keep one's open mind upon the task of reconciling one's internal response system to what arises externally.
My daydreaming leading to tripping is a metaphor for the actual dangers of forgetting to be mindful. Mindfulness is expanding our awareness to settle back into the seat of self, so we can objectively note the dynamically changing internal and external in our present and react to their demands if need be. The instant we deviate from our expansion of awareness to instead follow a wayward impulse, we chase this prey down the rabbit hole, a place of dreams but also sometimes of no escape. Mindfulness, then, is key to remaining vigilant and non-distractible in our real reality, it is the practice of keeping aware of keeping aware. And if mindfulness is what props us up in our awareness, I venture, mindfulness is what really keeps us alive.