If meditation is reaching a point when you have no thoughts, mindfulness is having one thought at a time.
Furthermore, it is the ability to choose a thought wisely and move to the next with intention and fluidity. As a meditation and mindfulness instructor, I use a metaphor (stolen straight from the ancient Taoist text, “The Toa Te Ching”) to explain this to my students: the metaphor of the bowl.
The usefulness of a bowl comes not from its material but rather, the empty space it creates. From this space comes its ability to hold things. A bowl is not the things that it holds. Similarly, we are not our thoughts but rather the ability to have, create and choose thoughts.
In certain regions in China, they use two bowls during a meal. One bowl is for the item you are currently eating. The second bowl is to discard items which you no longer want to eat. In the first bowl, they eat only one thing at a time before discarding it. At the beginning and end of the mean they wash their bowl.
This is how we should treat our mind. Choose one thought at a time (mindfulness). Discard that thought once it is finished and thoughts that do not serve us. On a regular basis, clear the mind completely(meditation).
Often we create a habit of filling your bowl with as much as possible for the fear that you might miss out. But the reality is that if our bowl becomes too full we might miss out on the next dish that comes around during a meal. Food might spill out of our bowl creating a mess or the flavors of the food might influence one another ruining the taste. If you’re are not wise about what you put in your bowl you might end up with something you don’t wish to eat and miss out on the thing you do.