Stage 4 and introspective awareness

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    Hi everyone,
    I am a longtime meditator who got the book a couple of months ago.
    After realizing I had been too long in stage 3, not loosing the breath but having other thoughts in parallel, I moved on to stage 4, and here doubt comes along very strong for me.
    I have a good grasp on awareness of body sensations and sounds and so while having my attention on the breath. The analogy of focusing on something visually but being aware of the surroundings makes good sense.

    But when it comes to the introspection I really don’t know. I can’t say I’m aware of any thoughts going on as I am attending to the breath. The closest I get is sometimes I am sitting with my breath and a thought comes (often they sneak right up to becoming a “simultaneous” object of attention, i.e. I am switching fast), but I catch it before it takes center stage so I can focus in on the breath.
    But this seems like attention more than awareness to me?

    Also, this supposed awareness of thoughts going on in the background, and being able to catch thoughts BEFORE they become a distraction makes no experiential sense to me (I can only imagine intellectually what that could be like).

    I would be very happy if you have any advice for me.

    Thank you for sharing, and all the best!

    Ps. This doubt is paired with not really being able to sense the outbreath at the nose (my belly movements are also very subtle at this point and hard to work with as well).


    Bakary Dieye

    Hello Mikael,
    I’m a beginner so please take my comments with a grain of salt…
    For me labeling the distractions helps a LOT…I can now see a pattern…and when something comes up…I can see it I dismiss it fast congratulate my mind and go back to the breath…I don’t have a very strong attention like yours I can avoid the pitfall of strong absorption which lives you prone to distraction if you don’t have awareness.
    Sensing the outbreath is ALWAYS a challenge for me too

    Hope this meager experience will be helpful to you



    Thanks Bakary!
    Thank you for your helpful suggestion!
    I actually did practice Mahasi-style labeling for a couple of years.

    For me now at stage four I believe I am looking for an experience where I perceive the mental chatter the same way I am aware of my surroundings when carrying a full glass.
    I suspect I may be trying to hard to find this even though I am sort of intentionally relaxing into it.

    Maybe it will one day turn out to be just like what I discovered about stage 3 for me. I was expecting something which blinded me to the fact that I was already there 🙂

    Thank you, and please don’t apologize for giving good advice!


    Hi Mikael,
    First of all, the out-breath sensations are subtler than the in-breath, whether at the nose or the belly. It’s much less important whether or not or how clearly you can perceive these sensations than that attention is fully occupied with trying to detect those sensations. As long as the attention is anchored to the breath sensations, rather than spontaneously moving in pursuit of other objects, the purpose has been served.

    As for your main issue, most people start off with reasonably good extrospective peripheral awareness. Although not developed to its full potential except by people who, for example, engage in martial arts or in jobs where strong peripheral awareness is required, we all have it. On the other hand, very few people have much introspective awareness to speak of. It must be intentionally cultivated.

    In the process of cultivating peripheral awareness, both extrospective and introspective, in the beginning attention will always try to satisfy the intention to be peripherally aware by going towards objects in peripheral awareness. But this is OK. As peripheral awareness grows stronger and attention becomes more stable, attention will do this less and less often. So this is normal, and everyone has the experience you’re having. Just continue to hold the intention to be peripherally aware of thoughts in the background while simultaneously keeping attention focused on the breath. Stable attention is absolutely essential for developing strong introspective awareness, and as attention becomes more stable and remains more consistently anchored to the breath, awareness grows stronger.

    While this process develops, you have an opportunity to learn more about how consciousness works. If you observe the process carefully, you find that everything appears in peripheral awareness first. Any object of attention has always appeared in peripheral awareness first. Some things draw attention so strongly that it seems they appeared in attention first, but this is an illusion. There was a brief moment when they were in awareness, and it was during that moment that attention was attracted to them. Other things are in awareness much longer before they succeed in capturing attention. I advise you to carefully reread the First Interlude on attention and awareness.

    It’s also important to understand the difference between distractions and everything else in peripheral awareness. Objects in awareness are not distractions until attention begins to alternate with them. Before then, they are just objects in awareness, of which there are usually many more than attention could ever focus on.

    At this point in your practice, your introspective awareness may not yet be strong enough for you to clearly perceive thoughts and emotions until they’ve already become subtle distractions. Or when you do become aware of them, attention will tend to immediately “confirm” them. And in either case, yes, it’s attention more than awareness that is making you conscious of their presence. However, it does sound like you’re getting pretty good at keeping them from taking center stage and becoming gross distractions. So if you just continue intending to catch and correct for distractions sooner, your introspective awareness will keep getting stronger until you become aware of all kinds thoughts, emotions, etc. coming and going without ever becoming distractions. And you’ll catch those that do much more quickly.

    Best wishes,



    Dear Upasaka Culadasa,
    Thank you for your very elaborate answer!
    It really answers my points of uncertainty at this stage of practice.

    With much gratitude and metta,

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