What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has to do with awareness, something we often lack in the midst of our problems. How many times have we said that we don't know what we're feeling or why we feel so strongly about something? Mindfulness helps.
The term is used in many ways because it has become a popular concept, but basically it has two prongs:
In the midst of confusing pain and fear mindfulness helps us to come home to ourselves and become more grounded in our bodies, managing our fear and pain better and becoming more able to find solutions. Fortunately, mindfulness involves skills that can be learned.
Origins of mindfulness
Mindfulness--as we know it here in the U.S.--is a blend of eastern and western thought. It has its beginnings in the meditative practices of the east, particularly Buddhism. However, in psychology it is more of a behavioral practice than a religious one. There is no incompatibility between mindfulness and Christianity, for example.
In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zin became known for his work in treating stress reduction at the University of Massachusetts, bringing mindfulness into the realm of human healing in the United States.
Marsha Linehan, in her brilliant work with Borderline Personality Disorder, has also done much to bring mindfulness into the professional psychotherapy world. If you are interested in the history of this movement I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on it.