Questions and Clarifications about Peripheral Awareness

Front Page Forums Meditation Questions and Clarifications about Peripheral Awareness

This topic contains 12 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Blake Barton 3 weeks, 5 days ago.

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  • #1462

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Please read through this thread before asking new questions about peripheral awareness. If your question is not answered, then feel free to ask it.

    • This topic was modified 1 year, 12 months ago by  kaya.
    • This topic was modified 1 year, 12 months ago by  Blake Barton.
    #1381

    A number of people in this and other forums are struggling with the difference between attention and awareness, particularly with knowing whether something is known through awareness alone, or through alternating attention.

    First, let me point out that peripheral awareness is not some new ability you have to acquire. It’s an innate faculty that everyone has and uses all the time in their daily lives. It’s just that it’s a weak and very under utilized faculty, simply because we overuse attention, which is a completely different faculty. You already have awareness and are using it. Think about how, in daily life, you are so often aware of events going on in the “background,” and then one of those events suddenly catches your attention. For example, you know people are talking but you aren’t paying attention, then someone says your name! To be clear, you never pay attention to anything until after it has already appeared in peripheral awareness. Even the sound of a gunshot appears first in peripheral awareness before attention moves to it. It’s just that only the very sharp mind of an adept meditator is likely to notice that brief period of awareness preceding attention.

    Also, the peripheral awareness we do have is usually extrospective, it is awareness of events happening outside of our minds. The long term goal of the meditation practice is to not only to make our faculty of awareness very powerful, but in particular to learn to have powerful introspective awareness.

    So now lets turn to meditation. So long as your attention is primarily focused on the breath, everything else you are conscious of is in peripheral awareness. This is true even though some of those things in peripheral awareness are also the objects of alternating attention, in which case we call them subtle distractions. The most important point is for the beginning meditator not to try to shut out everything else while you are focusing on the breath. Just let them be there. And there’s no need to become too analytical about it, trying to decide whether you are conscious of something because of alternating attention or pure awareness. This can be frustrating and a waste of time and effort. The distinction between these will become obvious by itself as you continue to practice. Those background objects in awareness that are also objects of alternating attention are just subtle distractions, and as long as they don’t become gross distractions, we aren’t concerned about them at all until Stage Six. Just let them come, let them be, and let them go. You will become able to distinguish between objects of pure awareness and subtle distractions long before Stage Six, but you don’t really need to do anything about it.

    However, having said that, here is a way of satisfying your curiosity about the difference between attention and awareness. The next time something catches your attention, reflect on the moments immediately preceding that event. When you do, you’ll discover you were aware of it before attention was caught. Similarly, next time you return after you realize you had forgotten the breath, notice that, even though your attention is very closely focused on the breath, you are still aware of other things in the background. And when you are doing this, also notice the qualitative differences between attention and awareness. Things in awareness are much less conceptual, distinct, and your knowing of them is much less detailed compared to when those same things are objects of attention. When doing these exercises, it’s better to use sounds and other sensations at first, because the power thoughts have to draw alternating attention can obscure the differences. Later on though, you will be able to easily discern a thought that is purely in awareness from one that is a subtle distraction.

    I hope this helps, and best wishes for your practice.

    #1776

    roncraig
    Member

    I am wondering if I am interpreting a couple of issues correctly.

    Question 1:

    If something is unconscious, it is just the sub-minds doing what the sub-minds do and I am not aware of it.

    If something is conscious it is either peripheral awareness or attention.

    If something pops into consciousness and I don’t “lock onto it” and investigate it, it is just peripheral awareness. If I do “lock onto it” and investigate it, or let it lead me into another thought associated with that object (which would be a distraction), then that is attention.

    The thing that is confusing for me is, when something happens in the periphery of my senses – in the periphery of my sight for example.

    Consider the window to my left right now as I am typing this question. While I am typing this sentence, the window is in a position so it is in my periphery but I am oblivious to it, unless I think that I want to allow myself to “see” it out of the corner of my eye.

    Do I need to intentionally bring an object into peripheral awareness; otherwise, it will only be an “object” in the unconscious sub-mind? Is this how I strengthen my peripheral awareness?

    Question 2:

    If the answer to Question 1 is “yes, and I do need to bring an object (or choose an object) to be in my peripheral awareness, it seem that my choices would be sights, sounds, smells, tastes, body sensations, and thoughts. I suppose that eventually I could bring all six sense objects into my peripheral awareness but right now that seems a little overwhelming. Do I start by bringing just one category (sights for example) into peripheral and then add additional categories until I am peripherally aware of everything?

    Question 3:

    Would it be helpful to practice strengthening peripheral awareness in my everyday life rather than just when I am doing my meditation practice?

    Question 4:

    The importance of peripheral awareness:

    I understand that if I have peripheral awareness I will be able to catch subtle dullness before it becomes gross dullness.

    But, I am wondering if another important function of peripheral awareness might be that, when I am meditating and I am watching the five aggregates and I observe something arise and pass away, I need both attention and peripheral awareness. Say I hear a door that is slammed shut. I clearly hear the sound arise and pass away. But, I need peripheral awareness of the “knowing” that I just experienced the arising and passing of an object of attention. In other words, there is a difference in being aware of the content and being aware of the process. Does being aware of both of these require both attention and peripheral awareness?

    #1777

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Ron,

    Please see my answers below.

    Question 1:
    Yes, if something is unconscious, it is just the sub-minds doing what the sub-minds do and you are not aware of it.

    Yes, if something is conscious it is either peripheral awareness or attention.

    Usually, if something stands out from peripheral awareness, then attention has moved to it. This might be a brief alternation. A helpful exercise is to notice if you had some awareness of the object before it stood out. Things in peripheral awareness are often fuzzy (like peripheral vision). After you move your attention back to the meditation object, you my still have some awareness of the the previous object.

    You will not be aware of everything in peripheral awareness. There is also a limited bandwidth of what you can be aware of using peripheral awareness.

    You do not need to bring objects into peripheral awareness. If you try, it will more than likely cause an alternation of attention. I recommend having the intention to be peripherally aware, and see what you notice. Try to make it an exploratory practice.

    Peripheral awareness is slippery. As soon as you check in to see if you have it, it causes an alternation of attention. It is easier to notice after the fact. For example, put your attention on the sensation caused by the breath for a few moments. Then stop and ask yourself if you were aware of anything else during that time.

    Question 3:

    Walking meditation is an excellent practice for developing peripheral awareness, and you can also practice it while going about your day.

    Question 4:

    This “knowing” that you describe is part of introspective peripheral awareness, and yes it is important to develop. It also alerts you if your attention moves away from the meditation object.

    Mindfulness is the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness.

    Good luck with your exploration,

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher

    #1778

    roncraig
    Member

    Blake, thanks for your reply. Your comments are helpful. Ron

    #2242

    John Anders
    Member

    The most important point is for the beginning meditator not to try to shut out everything else while you are focusing on the breath. Just let them be there.

    So if I understand correctly, instead of setting an intention to “engage with the breath as fully as possible without losing peripheral awareness” I can just set the intention to focus on the breath without blocking anything else? And can I also do this just through placing a gentle attention on the breath?

    • This reply was modified 10 months ago by  John Anders.
    #2312

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi John,

    I just noticed that your question never got answered. Sorry for the delay. Yes, you can just set the intention to focus on the breath without blocking anything else?

    And yes you can also do this just through placing a gentle attention on the breath?

    It is easy to over complicate this process, but it is as simple as that.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher

    #2373

    darlic
    Member

    Walking mediation,how do we do it,all this mindfull stuff is new to me is it safe to do when working,and driving?My name is jason

    #2375

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Jason,

    I would recommend starting with mindfulness during walking meditation to get the hang of it. You can then take the mindfulness into simple repetitive tasks like doing dishes or brushing your teeth.

    After that, you can take your mindfulness into more complicated tasks like cooking a meal.

    Once you are comfortable doing that you can try mindfulness while driving when there is not much traffic. When practicing mindfulness while driving you want to direct your attention to the process of driving. For example, the seeing of other cars and the road, the sounds of other cars and things like sirens, and the feel or your hands on the steering wheel. You also want to keep a spacious awareness which is needed to drive successfully. Your attention will not stay with any one object very long.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher

    #3058

    Filipe
    Member

    So, to develop our peripheral awareness, we can simply do walking meditation. How about step 1 of the preparatory phase, can it used to develop it as well?

    This is confusing, sometimes i think we have turn on a secondary antenna for peripheral awareness. You say, we just need to NOT block it. Well, how could we block it if we wanted? Earplugs?

    EDIT: What makes this confusing, is that the book says many times to maintain peripheral awareness. Like we should be doing something “special” about it. Well, to be honest i don’t know how to NOT hear the bird. Peripheral awareness is going to be there wether i want it or not (excluding altered states).

    • This reply was modified 2 months ago by  Filipe.
    #3062

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Filipe,

    The way that you can block peripheral awareness is to focus on the meditation object so closely that you aren’t aware of anything else. Have you ever had the experience that you were so engrossed in something (book, movie, hobby) that you didn’t hear someone speak to you?

    You are correct that peripheral awareness happens automatically if you are not so focused that you block it out. It is actually easier and more natural to have peripheral awareness than to not. The natural tendency for some people is to zoom in very closely to the breath, especially when trying to notice more detail, and this results in a loss of peripheral awareness. If you are aware of anything else while your attention is centered on the breath then you have peripheral awareness..

    The “maintaining” of peripheral awareness means having the intention not to focus too closely on the meditation object, and noticing whether or not you are aware of other things (sounds, body sensations, thoughts). It can be really quite simple.

    Blake – DT Teacher

    #3164

    Prashant
    Member

    I have a few technical queries to understand introspective awareness. Could you please be kind enough to provide guidance.

    Lets just take example of Introspective awareness of content of mind: I understand this is the awareness of thoughts, emotions, ideas etc appearing in Peripheral awareness.

    To be crystal clear on this topic of cultivating introspective awareness, I would like your help in understanding which of the following processes is true (A or B):

    A)Is it correct to say that if a sub mind projects moments of introspective awareness with mental objects our mind will become “automatically” aware of these mental objects like thoughts, emotion etc..? So, to cultivate and strengthen introspective awareness the idea should be to increase these moments of introspective awareness projected in consciousness so we become more and more aware of these mental objects?

    OR

    B)Is it correct to say if the sub mind projects moments of introspective awareness with mental objects our mind does “NOT become automatically” aware of these mental objects like thoughts, emotion etc.. and we need to additionally train our mind to become aware of these mental objects projected in awareness? If yes, can you shed light on how this works?

    Hoping you can help me clear this process of becoming introspectively aware.

    -Prashant

    #3166

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Prashant,

    I would generally say that your option A is the correct version. Please remember that these are moments of consciousness, so by definition you are “automatically” aware of them. There are specific practices throughout stages 3 and 4 (labeling and checking-in, intention) for increasing the number of moments of introspective awareness. Ultimately you want the proper balance between moments or attention and moments of awareness which TMI defines as mindfulness.

    Best Wishes,
    Blake

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