Focused and Open Attention in Meditation, Guest Blog by Lisa Ernst
Here are a few simple tips for understanding and practicing focused attention (mindfulness) and open awareness in meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is as much about returning to an object of attention as it is about focusing on it. We rarely maintain fixed attention for a full meditation period. In fact, we may only have short periods of fixed attention on an object and need to return again and again. Doing so with kindness and compassion, rather than frustration, is key.
Being present with the body, physical sensations and emotions is about relaxing into the experience, whatever it is, rather than resisting or tensing up. “That which we resist persists.”
In working with thoughts in meditation, our relationship to thought is more important than the content of the thoughts themselves. That is, we observe the flow of thinking without getting caught up in the narrative. Its like we’re watching a stream flow by or a train coming into the station and then heading out again without getting on.
Open awareness meditation is about noticing sounds arising and passing near and far and experiencing the changing flow of all experience, internally and externally, in the open space of mind – a mind as wide as the sky. We are letting go of the idea that our mind is limited to our head or any fixed point of reference. We do include awareness of breath and body in this practice, but we don’t fix our attention there. In fact, this practice works best when we are able to let go of effort and rest in the great embrace of open awareness, allowing all things to arise and pass away, attaching to none.
As we deepen into this practice, the boundary between inside and outside dissolves, and the duality of subject and object disappears.
I don’t recommend toggling back and forth between focused attention and open awareness during one meditation session. Find a practice to settle on until you feel stable. Many people, especially more experienced meditators, begin with focused attention and naturally shift into open awareness as their concentration deepens. If you struggle with open awareness because your mind wanders without a fixed object of attention, you may find the guided meditation, “Mind Like Sky” helpful. You can listen to it here.