Questions about peripheral awareness and continuous introspective awareness

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  roncraig 1 year, 8 months ago.

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  • #1234

    amitm02
    Member

    Hi,

    I am so glad ran into the “mind illuminated” book. It has started a huge breakthrough for me.
    I have a few questions about peripheral awareness.

    1 – It feels to me that there is no real dichotomous difference between “attention” and “peripheral awareness”, but instead, a gradual spectrum from very focused attention (single object, very detailed) up to more and more wide attention (e.g everything in the room).
    Is the difference between attention and peripheral awareness is just a matter of the scope (narrow vs wide) or is there a more qualitative fundamental difference?

    2 – I’m a bit confused regarding to “continuous introspective peripheral awareness without interrupting attention” goal: If i understand correctly the “moments of consciousness model” there can be only one moment at the time. It could be the attention of the breath or “introspective peripheral awareness”, but not both at the same time. How does it fit with the instruction to keep introspective awareness without interrupting attention. On the subjective level, I feel that every time I introspectivly monitor my mind, I lose the attention of the breath momenterly.

    3- Regarding the “checking in” technique: whenever I do the “checking in” technique, the result is a concept in the form of a word that come up in my consciousness. e.g “breathing” or “thinking” etc’. Is that the proper result or should i aim for something less conceptual and more “raw”? is it even possible.

    Thank you so much
    Amit

    #1235

    Michael Dunn
    Member

    Hello Amit

    I am glad to hear that the material in the Mind Illuminated is creating breakthroughs for you, I will try to shed some light on your questions here:

    1) Is the difference between attention and peripheral awareness just a matter of the scope (narrow vs wide) or is there a more qualitative fundamental difference?

    Yes, there is a more qualitative difference between peripheral awareness and attention. Attention and awareness are different forms of our conscious experience, it is not that awareness is simply a matter of expanding the scope of attention. The more you are able to differentiate between these two the more you will be able to form the foundation for mindfulness, which is the optimal interaction between the two.

    The differences are discussed a lot in the First Interlude and the chart on pp 34 shows some high level differences. In practice, these are the differences that I find and use. Awareness appears to my mind as being in the background, or on the periphery, very subtle. Attention appears to my mind as being in the forefront, center of my mental activity, if I am consciously discriminating then it is attention. Awareness informs attention, not the other way around. With practice you will become aware of things in your conscious awareness, while still holding attention on the meditation object. You will even see something move from awareness to attention, such as a pain that increases over time that you eventually take as your object.

    In stage 6 you will begin to practice expanding the scope of attention from a small area to the whole body, as an exercise to remove subtle agitation and gain exclusive attention, though this is still not the same peripheral awareness.

    2) I feel that every time I introspectively monitor my mind, I lose the attention of the breath momentarily.
    Yes, you are correct, in these early stages, when you check-in on your mind, you are technically changing the object of mediation for a short period of time. But that is a OK to do at these early stages, after Stage 4 you can do this without changing the meditation object. At this point, you are developing introspective awareness along with attention, which is an important balance to serve as a foundation for your later stages.

    3) Whenever I do the “checking in” technique, the result is a concept in the form of a word that comes up in my consciousness. e.g “breathing” or “thinking” etc’. Is that the proper result or should I aim for something less conceptual and more “raw”?
    Checking-in will be conceptual at first, and that is also fine. The more you practice, the more raw it will become. Just don’t take that concept and run with it, as that leads to mind wandering. Think of it more as a label, but don’t create the story. Checking-in serves to develop introspective awareness and keeping this goal in mind is good.

    In short, just keep practicing, you are on the right path and it will become more and more clear the more you do it, and the more questions you ask!

    I hope this helps to clarify.

    Michael Dunn

    #1322

    amitm02
    Member

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you so much for putting the time and answer my questions. I have a few follow up if you don’t mind

    1.
    “””In stage 6 you will begin to practice expanding the scope of attention from a small area to the whole body, as an exercise to remove subtle agitation and gain exclusive attention, though this is still not the same peripheral awareness.”””

    If i were to increase the scope of my attention even further, to include not only my body, but also the all “room” around me, would it still feel different from “peripheral awareness”?

    2.

    I’m curious how it fit with the “moments of consciousness model”. As far as i understand it, you can have only one “experience” at a time. So how can the awareness be continuos and simultaneous with the attention of the breath?

    3.

    Thanks 🙂

    Amit

    #1323

    Bakary Dieye
    Member

    Hello Guys,
    I’m very interested by the question raised by Amit about the Moments of Consciousness Model and its relation with sustained awareness. Being a beginner I just will give my modest opinion to learn a bit more from others.
    The way I understand it , having a high degree of Awareness and a stable Attention means that there are FEW non perceiving Mind Moments…having none of them would be like being “in the flow” for athletes…complete Alertness
    That being said the succession of Moments is fast,very fast , to such a degree that we can’t perceive it (at least not until much later in our practice…) so you can sustain both type of consciousness (attention and awareness) in a continuous form while “in reality” they just follow each other. This model was built by Advanced Meditators a long time ago…so it’s basically a tool that we can use to further our own practice without worrying about it’s “scientific ” relevance.
    To illustrate the difference between Attention and Awareness I use the image of my torch when I practice Cave diving and I’m observing a beautiful rock and the formation around it… My intention is the focus of my lamp on the rock. it’s bright,well defined,subjective in that I CHOOSE where to put it, it also has a SINGLE target (the rock). My Awareness represents what’s NEXT to the focus,the other rocks next to the one I’m observing…it’s a bit darker,there are SEVERAL objects,I see them PASSIVELY,(there is no intention ).etc. what’s interesting is that to have a good awareness of the surrounding you need FIRST to STABILIZE your attention so that what appears in the background will be clearer…it’s like Meditation (and you do meditate when you cave dive…believe me…). Hope my rambling make sense and that it will be useful to you

    Cheers

    Bakary

    #1325

    Bakary Dieye
    Member

    OUPS… in the last paragraph…please read “My Attention is the focus…rather than my intention. Sorry for the Typo

    #1328

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Amit and Bakary,

    Bakary, I think you are on the right track. Please see page. 152 in Mind Illuminated. There is a section called Moments of Attention and Moments of Peripheral Awareness, that may answer your questions. It is in the Fourth Interlude chapter.

    Blake

    #1336

    Michael Dunn
    Member

    Hi Amit,

    Following up on your questions…

    Increasing the scope of attention to include the whole room is still inherently different than peripheral awareness. They are different functions of the mind at this stage of the training. In your example, attention would be focused on taking in everything in the room at the same time, with equal clarity and alertness, whereas awareness is not actively engaged in taking in the whole room, it is more passive, and not discriminating.

    However, “In the higher Stages of meditation, attention and awareness actually merge together to become one fully integrated system—more about that in the chapter on Stage Eight.” (pp 36) though I cannot personally talk to this experience, that is what Culadasa describes. A merging of the 2 would only come after the development of exclusive attention and a unified mind, which is much more than an “expanded attention”.

    In answer to your next question, I believe that the sense of continuity of awareness while attending the sensations of the breath, is more of an illusion, in that the moments of consciousness appear very quickly, giving the illusion of continuity. This would be just like film and video, which are nothing more than a series of still “moments” that appear to the eye very quickly (48 times for film and 60 times for NTSC video), creating the persistence of vision.

    Good luck, hope this helps.
    Michael

    #1338

    This is a great thread and pointing to a fundamental issue with the moments of consciousness model. Developed by the “Abhidarmists,” the moments of consciousness model did not take into consideration the distinction between attention and awareness (nor, from what I understand, the unconscious). Arguably, all they were talking about were moments of “attention,” which can only happen one at a time. Nevertheless, Culadasa brilliantly took that model and attempted to make it account for attention AND awareness. This was very beneficial, especially in terms of practicing at these stages.

    However, it creates some conceptual problems as this thread is pointing out… such as Amit’s question: “As far as i understand it, you can have only one “experience” at a time. So how can the awareness be continuos and simultaneous with the attention of the breath?” This is the exact problem this model creates. There are a few ways to visualize a solution to this problem. One way is to picture two strings of beads, one attention the other awareness – after all, these two different functions are associated with different brain regions. I don’t like this solution so much, but it does give you a sense of how you could have ongoing awareness on one thread and moments of attention on another. Another way to visualize a solution is to picture awareness as long transparent beads of various lengths with smaller beads of attention inside. There are a few other variations but I hope the main point is clear – you can have one experience of “attention” at a time and awareness can nevertheless remain continuous because, in a sense, it’s running on another “track.”

    So yes, the model is a bit flawed conceptually – or at least the diagram for the model is flawed and there are probably better ways for representing this issue. However, it doesn’t get in the way of practicing and still remains quite beneficial.

    I hope this is clear and I’d love to hear from Culadasa as well and correct me if I’m misrepresenting the issue in anyway.

    with Metta
    Matthew

    #1339

    amitm02
    Member

    Thank you all for the answers. That all been very helpful.
    And i’m joining Matthew wish, If Culaduasa can give his own input on those questions, it would be awesome.

    #1350

    Matthew has provided a very accurate explanation of the problems with the moments of consciousness model. It’s always important to remember that any model is just a model, and that every model breaks down when you push it beyond its design limits. This particular model reflects the almost universal subjective experience of meditators for thousands of years, which is that, at some point the skilled meditator begins to perceive conscious experience as consisting of discrete “chunks” of information arising and passing away in sequence. And, as Matthew points out, the articulation of this particular model in it’s original form was hampered by the fact that, at the time, mind was conflated with consciousness, and awareness was conflated with attention.

    Nevertheless, it continues to be an extremely useful aid, allowing meditators to understand their meditation experience in ways that help them to become more skillful in their practice. And that’s why we use it here.

    As Matthew also mentions, there are other ways we could have resolved the problem of accounting for attention and awareness as the completely different mental functions they are. But then the explanation of the model might well have become so cumbersome that it lost much of its practical value. One of the virtues of models is that they are inherently simplifications of complex realities.

    The reality is that consciousness is the process of information exchange, and that information isn’t exchanged in particulate form. Information in the brain is encoded in multiple, continuous, complex waves of electrochemical activity being generated in a variety of different brain regions, and intersecting with each other in yet other brain regions. To extract the information content of a waveform, that wave must be analyzed in “chunks” of a certain minimum size. This latter is the most likely explanation for the subjective experience of “moments of consciousness.” Furthermore, the information streams (in the form of electrochemical waves) that we experience as awareness originate in distinctly different brain regions than the information streams corresponding to attention. Thus, the neurological correlates of consciousness involve the interaction of these distinct, multiple information streams which are then parsed in a way that allows their information content to be extracted, exchanged, and recombined.

    But that description would not be particularly useful to a meditator, nor would it bear any resemblance to her subjective experience. Our subjective experience is one of moments of attention imposed on a background of awareness. Hence the moments of consciousness model, and the introduction of moments of awareness. And as Bakary points out, when we visualize these “moments” as very brief and rapid (which, as parsed waveforms, they actually are) the problems of apparent continuity disappear.

    The Mind system model described in the Fifth Interlude is a better description of this process. The parsing of the interacting waveforms is what occurs in the inner circle labeled Consciousness. And as described in the Seventh Interlude, this same process is occurring at many different levels in the hierarchical structure of the brain/mind.

    By the way, I’m not a reductionistic materialist who describes the mind as an emergent property of matter, although it may sound that way. I’m a non-dualist who experiences mind and matter as the same “stuff,” just viewed in two different ways.

    #1808

    roncraig
    Member

    Michael Dunn states in his response above, “Checking-in will be conceptual at first, and that is also fine. The more you practice, the more raw it will become.” I am just beginning to work with the “checking-in” technique and I think that labeling would be helpful, rather than just sensing a vague, indistinct, state of mind. But I’m not sure what I am actually looking for. Could someone given me a list of things that I might observe when I check-in?

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