The term mindfulness originated in the late 1800s as a translation from the Sanskrit sati which refers to the practice of collecting ourselves in the wholeness of mind-body presence. It's the dominant term used today to describe a clear, calm mind. Between workshops, apps and products, mindfulness is now over a billion dollar industry.
In many cases, it's presented as a science-based, secular version of meditation whose roots are in traditions like Buddhism and yoga. In any case, it's not a mind specifically full or empty of anything. New practitioners discover it's not about trying to calm emotional turbulences or clear distracting thoughts. The predominant practice is some variation on the traditional Zen practice of sitting quietly, watching and counting breaths.
What happens with practice is that we get better at letting thoughts and feelings come and go instead of reacting to them. We are less distracted by them. Our mind is more clear and calm. We enjoy more and get more done.
There are other forms of achieving mindfulness. In "Focus" (2015 DesigningLife Books) I outline a approach that can be used anywhere, anytime. It incorporates the sense of mindfulness presented by Harvard researcher Ellen Langer who has arguably the most coherent and accessible definition of mindfulness of any. It is also inspired by other Buddhist meditation practices like Vipassana.
It's very simple. We notice what's different in each fresh moment of experience. Noticing what's different creates a clear, calm mind. We become less reactive and distracted. If it's a mind full of anything, it's a mind full of curiosity, the most quintessential quality of joy.
The prospect of creating more mindful workplaces is an exciting possibility as we reimagine the nature and meaning of work.