Here I’m drawing on some helpful characteristics and qualities from the ‘definition’ section in the Sutta). The ‘definition’ is the 4 characteristics often used in the Pali Cannon to define Right Mindfulness/Samma Sati.
How you pay attention to experience is far more important than the objects, or contents, of experience. We are advised to ‘contemplate’ (anupassati) – to repeatedly bring our attention to body and mind. This is not a discursive mental process but a movement of mind. A simple ‘knowing’ or ‘feeling’ of a moment of experience.
Mindfulness/Sati is both present moment awareness and recollection, not so much in the sense of memory, but by being present to your experience at the time, you are more easily able to recollect it later. Sati has a broad, receptive quality. Just think of the times when you are trying to remember something and then when you relax and let it go it comes easily into your mind.
Another characteristic of Sati is that it doesn’t ‘interfere’ with whatever is happening but is just aware of it, allowing impartial observation to transform the experience. Its quality is natural and open which allows the mind to calmly observe and work with the other factors of Right Mindfulness to gather ‘data’ that gradually allows more and more to be seen and understood about the nature and workings of the mind..
Clearly knowing/Sampajana: alternately ‘clear comprehension’ or ‘continuity of purpose’. You ‘clearly know ‘ an object in a simple way such as knowing the quality and sensations of a breath. You comprehend that a breath is occurring and you know your awareness of the breath fits in with your current purpose i.e. cultivating awareness and steadiness of mind. You know the relationship between what you are doing and how it is helping or not on the path.
There are 4 levels of sampajana. The first 2 are concerned with assessing what you’re doing (inside and outide of formal meditation) and making appropriate adjustments according to your overall purpose. Good questions to lightly drop in can be “What’s needed here?” or “Is this beneficial?”
Sampajana is the wisdom or intelligence aspect of Right Mindfulness. The second pair are the result of momentum in the practice and are more strongly associated with insight. If continuity of awareness is kept up over time you start to understand by direct experience that there are only causes and conditions and the nature of anatta (not self) and anicca (impermanence) are seen more clearly.
Diligence/Atapi: is a patient, persistent perseverance. It is not a strenuous effort but a balanced and sustained application of energy. The effort is to stay present and ‘know’ what is happening – this takes a very small but consistent effort. Another association with Atapi is heat and the heart. A more poetic translation could be ‘heart wish’ implying emotional engagement and interest. If we try and meditate without interest we usually resort to force and subsequently build up emotional resistance and physical tension.
Free from desires and discontent/Vineyya abhijjhadomanassa: We can also call this ‘Right Attitude’ when the mind is to some extent settled, calm and content because defilements and hindrances have receded. They may still be present but they are not acted upon or resisted. There is a precious feeling of ease or acceptance of whatever is in the mind (or whatever is happening). Stability of mind (samadhi) arises from this feeling of ease – you’re happy to be present, there’s no particular wish to be doing anything else. You might start a meditation in this mind state or it will be cultivated through the practice.