Living mindfully is what really matters, and the point of practicing mindfulness is just what the words imply: It's about training specific skills so we can apply them in real life.
Mindfulness, by itself, is not the be-all end-all. Mindfulness means paying attention -- accurately and openly -- to what's happening in and around you moment-by-moment. It's a profoundly lucid form of transcendent awareness and it involves laser-like focus, unwavering concentration and a compassionate orientation. Mindfulness is a method, but living with greater skill, wisdom and kindness is the meaning.
With mindfulness, you can perceive reality and understand your own role. This essential mental skill facilitates the development of other virtuous capacities and qualities. If you remain present, truly present, you can share the very best of yourself with others by acting skillfully and constructively.
In contrast, without mindfulness, we tend to remain engrossed in our issues and therefore limited in our capacity to notice, much less care for, anyone or anything else. By itself, mindfulness is value-neutral, if not simply narcissistic.
But how -- and why -- we practice is up to us.
What's the point of practicing mindful breathing? Is it to use the breath as a focus for training attention in general? Or is it to become the best, most mindful breather? Sounds silly, but it's a very real question for most of us.
The higher the quality of your attention, the more powerful it is -- whether for good or for ill. Mindful attention is like a razor-sharp knife, and how you wield it determines the value.
If your mindfulness practice is solely about your own experience, you might end up with razor-burn or worse. If you practice mindfulness to have an advantage over others, your mind can cut and hurt, and bring shame.
But if you dedicate your mindfulness practice to giving the best of yourself (and increasingly the capacity of that "best") then you use the sharp edge of your mind to cut away ignorance and create more and more space for love. After all, attention is an expression of love, and attention what we tend to crave for -- and from -- those we love.
The point of mindful listening ultimately transcends hearing. The technique involves becoming increasingly more attuned to the process of listening. It's not just about sound and silence, but also the mental process of differentiating between auditory data and the meanings we ascribe. This enables us to hear "better" and then generalize beyond hearing to gain clarity and accuracy in our experience of reality.
We can hear what is, which helps us work constructively with what is. Although sometimes the right action is not to take any action, mindful listening does not imply passivity. Mindful listening is open, compassionate and alert.
At a broader level, consider that while using mindfulness to reduce stress is beneficial for our own health and wellbeing... the greater benefit lies in improving our ability to do right by -- and for -- others. Stressed thoughts, words and actions can easily hurt others. The more balanced my emotional state, I less I risk harming others. The steadier and more emotionally healthy I become, the more energy and intention I have to contribute positively in my relationships and the world.
In sum, mindfulness is both process and outcome; it is a skill to practice and apply. Doing so deepens our capacity and broadens our ability.
Although each of us trains individually, mindfulness is not about "me." Rather, living mindfully allows us dedicate our own practice to a greater purpose and the greater good.