Author Topic: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)  (Read 3006 times)

mcgee55

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Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« on: October 26, 2009, 02:09:32 AM »
I've been pondering the difference between "focusing" on the breath and "awareness" of the breath lately.  There have been many posts in this forum over time relating to this, which I think is an important topic.  The following are my thoughts, and I am very interested in hearing all of yours!

Focus implies constricted attention on a particular aspect of the breath, such as its sensation in the nostril or the physical movement of the abdomen.  Awareness means actually following the breath in a broader sense. Instead of limiting ones attention to a singular aspect of the breath, such as a sensation in the nostril or movement of the abdomen, one notices all of these things throughout the course of an IN and OUT breath.  Rather than holding ones attention in a particular spot, one allows themselves to naturally feel any sensations that occur throughout the development of a breath.

I'm beginning to feel like "focusing" on the breath, at least for myself, isn't the way to develop the requisite samadhi.  Focusing solely on one area feels unnatural when there are potentially many other aspects of the breath to experience as it develops. I don't feel that limiting my attention to my nostril or abdomen is truly following the breath because it disallows feeling other sensations that may be naturally occurring, and may be screaming for attention.  It helps develop concentration, but it feels forced to hold my attention in one area, when each breath is an evolving process.  I like just letting myself feel whatever I feel on each breath much better.  Perhaps this is correct practice and I should have been doing this all along.  Perhaps not.  It doesn't much matter.  What do you all think?




Matthew

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2009, 06:37:34 AM »
mcgee,

Keep at it. You can focus on the nostrils or the chest or the rising belly. You can be aware of all of it, all of your breath.

The Buddha didn't teach people to focus on the nose.  He taught people to anchor their awareness in their breathing. The nose stuff came way after he was dead and cremated

...snip......

Meditation is simple but not if you think about it too much:

- Sit with your hips supported so your lower back is nicely aligned.

- Relax without slouching and without a back support.

- Take three or four deep breaths.

- Close your eyes or let them gaze gently at the floor about 1 mtr / 3 feet from your knees. Eyes relaxed.

- Place your hands on your knees, thighs or fold them in your lap.

- Relax and breathe naturally.

- When thoughts arise do not engage with them. Whatever thoughts they are.

- When thoughts arise do not push them away. Whatever thoughts they are.

- Be aware of your breathing ... in .... out .... in ... out ....

- Let thoughts arise and fall away - and keep paying attention to your breathing - neither pushing thoughts away nor indulging in a "train of thoughts".

This way you develop calm, concentration and equanimity.

Try keeping it really simple - because it is.

Couldn't agree more with what you say. There is a risk with any forcing of attention into one place of self hypnosis occurring. There can be benefit gained from focussed meditation in terms of discipline and concentration but not so much in equanimity as one is cutting out a large portion of the breath. Accepting everything as it is is being open to it seems to work better for me that shutting down my awareness.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: October 26, 2009, 06:38:12 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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joy

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2009, 10:59:01 AM »
mcgee,

I always find TIB's advice is sufficient and adequate. But I couldn't resist temptation to quote a page from a book which I think is appropriate in this discussion:

18] "Breathing in long, he understands: 'I breathe in
long'; or breathing out long, he understands: 'I breathe
out long': Breathing in short, he understands: 'I breathe
in short'; breathing out short, he understands: 'I breathe
out short'.


The key words here are "He understands", it doesn't say anything about
placing your attention on the nostril tip or the abdomen. The instructions
don't say to count the breaths, nor do they say anything about following the
breath around in the body from the nostril tip to the throat to the lungs to
the abdomen and back again. The instructions simply say to "understand"
what the breath is doing in the present moment, They never mention focusing
one's attention in any one place. All that these instructions say is the "He/she
understands when they breathe in and out long or short. So where does one
put their attention? The answer is 'One Understands' when breath is long or
short, they understand when breath is fine or coarse, they understand when
breath is fast or slow. In other words the meditator knows what the breath is
doing in the present moment. The meditator doesn't need to focus on any one
place or follow it from one place to another. They only have to understand
the general characteristics of what the breath is doing. Let us continue on:

He trains thus: 'I shall breathe in experiencing the
whole body'; He trains thus: 'I shall breathe out experiencing
the whole body. He trains thus: 'I shall breathe
in tranquilizing the bodily formation': he trains thus: 'I
shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formation'.


Now, we get to the part where the real instructions abide. When the
instructions says 'He trains thus' the meditator begins to train their mind
to become more observant, so they see their whole physical body on the in
breath and out breath. The meditator NEVER tries to control their breath
in any way! They just let body breathe naturally. They notice where body
has tightness or tension in it. On the in breath notice when there is tightness
in the muscle of the shoulders or back or hands, etc. And do the same on the
out breath.
This, is the most important part of the meditation and that is to relax
those tight muscles consciously and do this on the in breath and the out
breath.


PS: "It is unwise to take anything as being the absolute truth just because it agrees with one's scriptures "- Lord Buddha
« Last Edit: October 27, 2009, 03:35:18 AM by joydip_ppl »
Joy

Matthew

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  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2009, 12:23:51 AM »
Nicely said joydip - a wise addition to the thread. Thank you.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

mcgee55

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2009, 11:13:34 PM »
Very nice responses.  Thank you both.  Matthew, it was your comment on my earlier post that really got the ball rolling on this, about feeling the breath everywhere.  Forcing my attention didn't feel right.  I'm curious to know what you both think of the emphasis placed on following the breath on the nose/abdomen.  I'm sure it can be very helpful, but I think its somewhat misleading, especially for a beginner.  I erroneously was attempting to to not divert my attention from there except for "distractions" because I thought that was the proper method, to "follow the breath at the tip of the nostril."  I think there's something to this, and beginners hopefully learn the proper way.  Perhaps the problems that I've experienced in this regard is something that could have been avoided if I had an experienced instructor.  I'm glad, however, that I seem to have found the right path.  Best wishes, and thank you as always for the advice.   ;D

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Staff
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2009, 07:02:42 AM »
mcgee

You are welcome for the advice. Having heard, understood and followed the instructions one is obligated to pass them on.

We had several nose/abdomen wars here .. mainly around the topic of Goenka .. I think everyone had their heads up their asses frankly - including me.

My take now: sometimes for some people a period of anapana focussed on the nostrils or using the belly as the object of heir shamatha is useful but the true method neither specifies nose, abdomen nor having your head up your ass.

In he Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: October 28, 2009, 07:40:55 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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xsmallard

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2009, 11:40:24 AM »
Perhaps I am oversimplifying it or perhaps that is the point of it all, or I may be completely off. It occurred to me this morning during my sitting that my preference is for awareness of breath, wherever it is, nostril or abdomen. Simply because, it seems to me that awareness is a neutral observation or the breath in its natural state, whereas focus, in my limited experience, is akin to striving and therefore influences the breath, which for me awareness does not do.

Thoughts?

Metta,
Don

Renze

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2009, 12:07:36 PM »
I agree with you, Don. For me, it feels best when I'm aware of my breath in the background, while other things such as thoughts and emotions can be on the foreground. This way, there's no focus on anything, just awareness. It's even possible to be aware of two things at the same time this way. This also makes the belly or nostril important, because to be aware of your breath in the background you literally have to feel your breath.
I feel that when I forcefully focus on the breath, I actually get caught up in thoughts after a while and lose awareness of both!

Kind regards,

Renze

mcgee55

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Re: Awareness vs. Focus - My Thoughts (yours welcome also)
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2009, 02:55:49 PM »
I'm definitely glad that I wasn't here for the so Goenka wars, although I do often find myself with my head my ass anyway.

xsmallard - you very succinctly summed up the way that I was feeling.

renze - I too find it easier for the breath to be in the background, although not until after I have used it as my primary object of attention for a while. Ideally I would use anchor awareness in the breath to settle my mind, then move on to the body.  My mind hasn't been settling recently, so its just been the breath.  I don't feel comfortable expanding my practice to other things until I have a good grasp on the breath, which apparently I don't.