When understanding the nature of mindfulness it is helpful to know certain metaphors that can exemplify what consistent mindfulness practice is like. The first metaphor is the one the Buddha had used in the past. It is that of the city gates guard. Imagine that your mind is like a great city, with a great wall around it and a gate that opens to people coming in and people going out. Now imagine that you are a guard of that gate, watching people go in and out. Like a good guard, of an ancient city like the ones during the time of the Buddha, you are ever-vigilant, always noting what goes in the city of your mind and what goes out. If negative things want to come into your city then you stop them. Likewise, if negative things want to come out of your city you stop them too. In this way you are ever-present to what is moving in and out of the city gates of your mind.
The second metaphor for mindfulness is like that of a garden and a gardener. Imagine your mind is like a garden, with many different plants growing in it. Some are good and fruitful trees and flowers, like compassion, love, understanding, awareness, patience, generosity, appreciation, and peace. Others are negative weeds and thistles, like selfishness, hatred, jealousy, fear, covetousness, attachment and ignorance. The job of you the gardener in mindfulness is to recognize those negative weeds and thistles and remove them from the garden of your mind, while watering and giving sunlight to the good and fruitful trees and flowers. This happens in the very moment you encounter them. This way you become a moment to moment gardener, ever-caring and nurturing.
The third and final metaphor for mindfulness is like the care of a mother for her only child. Imagine that your mind is like your only child. A loving mother does not get angry at a child if they do something wrong, since they are only learning. They have great patience for their child and know that they will inevitably do things wrong. The best she can do is give proper guidance to her child of the mind, telling the child to go here, and steer clear of there. Every-moment the mother has to watch her child, to make sure she doesn't do something that could hurt her. In this loving way we can watch the child of our own thoughts, being our own guardian against states of mind that do not serve our child.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present to our experience, not only to appreciate the moment for what it is and take it all in, but also to recognize when our mind enters in to a state that does not serve us or others. Having this conscious relationship to our thoughts allows us to become our own greatest work of art. We do not however have any self-consciousness, no anxiety about if we're doing it right or not. Rather we allow our heart to initiate natural intentions for presence to our experience. In this way we know ourselves more deeply, not less. Mindfulness practice is the kind of meditation we do all day, whereas sitting meditation only happens for a while. This is the basis upon which great spiritual fruit may be accomplished. May you grow in your mindfulness practice in order to bring light to your day to day life, bringing the darkness low and your deeper authentic self to full expression.