Yet another question about introspective awareness

Front Page Forums Meditation Yet another question about introspective awareness

This topic contains 13 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Upasaka Culadasa 6 years, 3 months ago.

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • Author
  • #1360


    I hope you don’t mind me being in an inquisitive mood here, but stage four is a toughie 🙂

    I have some difficulty understanding the experience of awareness, rereading the first interlude some times.

    I do get the part that awareness is aware of the context, the large picture and contains large amounts of information, and also directs attention to content that is deemed salient.

    But the part about being aware of thoughts and emotions messes it up for me. How can I know that something is in my awareness?
    I mean, a thought comes into my awareness and then attention moves to it. But can I really know that this thought was in my awareness?
    As soon as I can label the thought, or know it’s contents in a way that I can describe it to someone or even myself, isn’t attention already there?

    I am also trying to intend to notice gross distraction faster, but compared to awareness noticing and directing attention to for instance a car of the same make as my new car, making it look as everyone in the world seems to drive the same car as I do, my intention to “be attentive of the breath and aware of thoughts and emotions” doesn’t seem as effective.

    Humbly and with gratitude, thanks.



    It just happened for me yesterday for the first time in meditation. It felt like an inner “tug” or “hunch” that a thought was about to arise and I noted it. Happened 3 times in a 45 minute meditation. I have been setting the intention to note introspective awareness, and actually using “checking in” every 6 breaths, by counting the breaths. I always set my intention before meditation, and this has been my intention for weeks.
    I am a student in Stage 3.



    Interesting observation!
    In my case, I guess that continuing to practice diligently will reveal more, since I am so confused by the way I interpret the descriptions at the moment.

    I have been very diligent for years now, and am somewhat at a point where the tug to “roll up the mat and leave” is strong (to use yoga-speak). I.e. stop practicing.
    Of course this means there is something to observe and learn here.
    It would’ve been easier if I found my way back to enjoying the investigation more.

    Thanks for your input!


    Blake Barton

    Hi Moln1,

    Please remember that the book is merely a map to help us understand our experience. The actual terrain must be investigated for oneself. I understand trying to do the practice exactly right. I have fallen into this trap many times myself.

    However, it seems that this desire to understand is causing you suffering. I recommend lowering the bar a little bit, to help you explore and understand for yourself. If you are aware of anything other than the breath while you are meditating then you are doing it “right”.

    This being aware may be in the form of alternating attention, and this is fine. If you try to see if you have peripheral awareness, then it usually causes an alternation of attention.

    Another way to experiment is to follow the breath closely for a few breaths, and then briefly stop and ask yourself if you were aware of anything else while your attention was centered on the breath. At first it may be easier to notice peripheral awareness slightly after the fact through reflection.

    The other night I was meditating and it started raining. I still very much had my attention centered on the breath, but there was also an awareness that it was raining. A few times when it started raining harder, I noticed my attention alternating to the rain. You might notice moments like this in your own practice in an exploratory way.

    I hope you won’t give up on the practice. I recommend reading about the hindrance of doubt in the Mind Illuminated, and trying to let go of judgment as best you are able.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training.


    Jon Krop

    Hi Moln1,

    Like Blake, I’m a student of Culadasa’s and in his teacher training (although Blake has finished his training and I’m still partway through). I could be wrong, but you sound a little bit like me — analytical, motivated to apply the meditation instructions and mental models with extreme precision. This can be a good thing, but it can also get in the way.

    I want to share a tweak that helped me a lot when I found myself getting preoccupied with the attention/awareness distinction and frustrated with trying to maintain distinct intentions regarding attention and awareness, as you seem to be now. It was inspired by advice that Culadasa gave me while I was on retreat: stop trying to juggle multiple intentions — I’ll do THIS with attention, and at the same time I’ll do THAT with peripheral awareness. Instead, just hold the single intention to stabilize on the breath. As long as you have the background understanding that there’s no need to clamp down on objects in the periphery — and it sounds like you get that — I think it’ll work fine. My guess is you’ll find that peripheral awareness naturally flowers and plays its appropriate role of alerting you to distractions. See, stabilizing your attention on the breath requires you to use both attention AND awareness, but that doesn’t mean you need to deliberately cultivate two separate, rigid intentions, one for attention and one for awareness. Just hold the one intention to achieve stability, and your mind will figure out how to use its various faculties to bring that about, especially since you have some intellectual understanding of attention and awareness.

    Like I said, this is based on advice from Culadasa, but it does seem to contradict certain passages in the book. Personally, I think the simpler, non-compound intentions work better without sacrificing the power of Culadasa’s methods, at least in pre-adept stages. But your mileage may vary.



    Hi Blake and Jon,
    I am so grateful for your replies. You are really patient and compassionate.
    Blake, when you noticed your mind was alternating, that is not necessarely a gross distraction, right?

    Jon, I think you pinpointed some of my traits quite well! It takes one to know one? 🙂
    It’s like I need to be told where it is ok to step out of “the rules” that are explicitly stated…

    I have a hard time believing I wouldn’t return if I quit now, since meditation has been with me for almost 30 years now, but really diligent and persistent daily practice for 10-12 years. But the tug to take a long sabbatical is strong, and I know practice needs to be continuous.
    I’ll reread the text on doubt, as right now it feels like the practice works for “you out there”, but not for me (which is funny considering there is no me and you).

    Again, I am so thankful for your time and efforts.
    All the best.


    Blake Barton

    Hi Moln1,

    I have one minor correction to Jon’s excellent post. I am indeed part of the first Dharma Treasure teacher training program, but it is still ongoing, hence my title of Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training.

    When attention alternates it can be either a gross or subtle distraction depending how long the attention stays there. When less time is spent on the distraction, and the meditation object remains the primary focus of attention then it is a subtle distraction. If a distraction takes center stage, occupying attention most of the time, and causes the meditation object to slip to the background then it is a gross distraction.

    In the case of the hard rain, I think it was probably a gross distraction. My attention moved pretty strongly for maybe 1/4 of the inhale, and I don’t recall having any awareness of the breath during that time.

    In teacher training class we had a discussion with Culadasa about people being confused about attention and peripheral awareness. He is planning a post to help clarify this issue. But in the meantime he gave some advice that may be helpful. He said until Stage 6 it does not really matter if you are aware of things in the periphery through alternating attention or peripheral awareness.

    The important point is to be aware of things other than the meditation object (breath) while meditating. If you are, then you are doing the practice correctly. For example, if your attention alternates to a thought and you recognize this then you can immediately direct your attention back to the breath. The distinction between alternating attention and peripheral awareness will tend to clarify over time.

    One way that this might happen is when your attention alternates to something else, and you realize that you had been peripherally aware of the object, before it became an object of attention.

    Checking on peripheral awareness is like trying to catch a bubble. As soon as you check in with peripheral awareness then it causes attention to move. However, you can recall after a breath if you were peripherally aware of anything during that breath using short term memory.

    I recommend that you seriously investigate your motives for wanting to stop meditation practice. Is it caused by frustration, expectations, judging etc? If so, I recommend trying to enjoy the practice. Tune into anything pleasant that arises, and try softer instead of harder.

    It may also help to reflect on the positive benefits that you have received from meditation over the years. Sometimes it helps to ask a close friend or partner if they have seen any change.

    Good Luck,

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training



    Hi Blake!
    Thank you for the information about awareness (introspective or such)vs attention. It really means I can lighten up about that! It seems very useful to me!

    I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been following my breath quite well, but that I can’t recall afterwards if a breath was long or short. I experimented with identifying different sensations of in- and out-breath, and to know how many I perceived. I know that I perceive them, but Unless I decide beforehand to count them, I can’t say how many I perceived. Basically, it was the same now that I tried asking myself afterwards if I was aware of something else during attending to the breath It is hard unless I look for it at the same time as I am following my breath. Don’t know if this makes sense. Anyways, I tensed up as I tried that one, so I let it go.

    Regarding positive effects of meditation it’s funny. My wife has asked me why I spend so much time with it if it doesn’t do much for me. I myself think that there are subtle changes in fretting about the small stuff, but there is some reason I keep doing it and have been doing it so persistently. Don’t know that reason though.

    I believe I think about quitting because I get disappointed due to the fact that I perceive a lack of improving my attention (and awareness) and have spent so much time. Yes, so I do not enjoy it at the moment.

    I am trying to revert to stage 2 practice to regain some footing, but it seems like I am not even there right now. Stage I is still fine though.

    Thank you again and all the best!


    Blake Barton

    Hi Moln1,

    I recommend trying to find a meditation practice that you enjoy. Even if this means not precisely following the practice strategies in The Mind Illuminated. In all likely hood this will mean being more relaxed and trying to let go of judgments and expectations. Have fun and be happy.

    One option would be to try a very simple practice like just observing the breath and being aware of anything pleasant that comes up. It is also helpful to know if your attention is on the breath or somewhere else.

    We all have differing abilities to stabilize attention. If your mind wanders 1000 times during a session, and you bring it back, then you are developing meditation skills. Please don’t forget to give yourself positive feedback when you remember to come back, and notice if there is any negativity around forgetting.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training


    I’ve been following the attention-awareness discussions from afar, and I think (well, I hope) I might have a couple things that I can contribute here.

    It seems what often makes the distinction between attention and awareness so vexing is that, initially, many of us try to understand awareness *through* the lens of attention, so what naturally follows is the tendency to try and *pin down* awareness conceptually and/or through our intentions. But awareness is not pin-down-able. It does not get experienced or known in the same way we know and understand via attention. It is more naked. (Naked of concepts.) It is more direct. (Direct in that it bypasses conceptualisation.) And it is not necessarily cultivated with more effort. (It probably requires the opposite if anything: more letting go.)

    In any case, the RSA has created an excellent animation of neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist’s work on the divided brain (attention vs awareness), which illustrates quite well the nature of these two modes of perception. Jon, Blake, Culadasa, I’m wondering if it might be a useful pedagogical tool to help students intuit what awareness is, rather than them trying to understand it through the usual attention-centric processes of language.

    The link:

    moln1, if you get a chance, please check it out, and let us know if it was illuminating or useful at all.

    Anyway, I hope some of this is helpful.




    I am blown away by allt he kind and informative answers!

    Upasaka Culadasa, thank you so much for your very clarifying text. I do hope so that all on this forum that are experiencing frustration or having difficulties with this read your answer.

    Blake, I understand that fully, and the thing is I did master stage three according to TIM.then something happened, and my mind is totally unruly and just zones out during practice. I do believe it is some kind of dullness manifesting this way. And you’re right. Meditation has become a chore and not very fun since this. And I do believe it may be skillful to just lighten up about it all for a while and find my way back to joy. I hope I can still master stage four one day 🙂

    Nelson, very interesting film! Dense on info, so I have to look at it again!

    Thank you to all of you and may all beings be free of suffering!



    I believe I’ve just come out the other side from a very similar process to what you are experiencing right now. When I entered stage four a lot of mental activity and dull dream-like states arose. It felt like I was in a meditative state “less advanced” than when I was back in stage two. I went into a spiral of judging and doubt over the practice. But I stuck with it and have found myself in a very different stage four than before. I’m still working with and learning about gross distractions but everything is much quieter than before (but not quiet).

    To be honest, I did nothing special. I just stuck with setting the intention to anchor to the breath, notice what the mental states were, and correct when necessary with the appropriate antidote. And I stuck with an every day practice. So I guess I’m saying have faith. Things will change for you at some point, though none of us know when. I really feel for you though because I know what it’s like.

    One concrete thing that may or may not be helpful: be playful. I started to think of identifying and correcting for gross distractions and strong dullness as a child’s game, like hide and go seek. That seemed to take some of the air out of the more unskillful thoughts that arose in my mind.



    Hi Rob,
    I understand there are most likely individual differences, but wow, does ‘When I entered stage four a lot of mental activity and dull dream-like states arose. It felt like I was in a meditative state “less advanced” than when I was back in stage two. I went into a spiral of judging and doubt over the practice.’ sound exactly right!

    Not sleepy, but dream-like, and yes, it feels like the practice has slipped back to even before beginning to meditate.

    Very inspiring to read about your experiences. Thank you so much for writing!

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by  moln1.

    moln1, yes, some of it might be a little dense on details, and perhaps not entirely for our purposes. Sorry, I should have mentioned that the parts that are social commentary and political in nature can be ignored. It’s really only the bits of animation that illustrate how perception can be narrowly focussed or broadly open that are relevant, in particular the sequence of images of the bird being narrowly focussed on a seed (attention), whilst being on the lookout for predators (peripheral awareness). For me, this was the closest thing to capturing what the first-person experience of attention with peripheral awareness felt like.

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by  Nelson Satoru.
Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.