When we are mindful, we are able to ‘hold things in mind’. It is only the remembering of what we are attending to that enables us to maintain an unwavering attention towards it.
Consider how your mind might ‘drift off’ when doing something, such as meditating, reading or eating. At some point you realise that your mind has wandered. This is a moment of ‘recollection’ (literally meaning to ‘bring together’ or ‘find again’). You have become aware of what is actually happening and remembered what it is you that are supposed to be focussed on.
In one magical moment, you have stitched together your past, present and future into one secure and cohesive unity: directly seeing what has happened (past), bringing attention to immediate reality (present), and prospectively reminding yourself to focus again on what you’re supposed to be doing (future). This is mindfulness in action.
Modern psychological research has shown that attention comes in discrete moments. That is, we are only able to be attentive to something for the briefest time, after which we have to remind ourselves to keep on being attentive.
Mindfulness allows us to bypass the fogginess and forgetfulness our minds are prone to by weaving our attention into a seamless continuity over longer stretches of time. Stabilizing the attention in this way has profoundly clarifying effects.