The Basics of Natural Awareness 101: Broadening Attention

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September 12, 2019

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Broadening Attention Header Image

There are three deliberate mental shifts you can make during classical mindfulness meditation that can help point you toward natural awareness: relaxing effort, broadening attention, and dropping objects.

If you have not read the first step yet, you can find Relaxing Effort on our blog.

Broadening Attention

Your attention can be very narrowly focused or broadly focused. It can also be somewhere in between. You might notice the differences because you naturally adjust the breadth of your attention in life all the time. You are driving your car, and you focus first on your dashboard, and then you automatically shift to a wider peripheral sense of the road in front of you. You are talking with a friend, and you focus on her face, then shift to her whole body, and then notice the room in which you both are sitting.

We can think of the mechanism of attention as being like a camera. Sometimes you use a telescopic lens in order to focus on something quite narrow—maybe taking a close-up of a flower, seeing the intricacies of the stem and petals in detail. Usually we take midrange photos—of our kids, friends at the game, or whatever the selfie du jour is—employing a lens that is not too narrowly focused, but open in a general way. The far end of the spectrum would be when we use a panoramic lens to take an elongated, comprehensive photo of, let’s say, the Grand Canyon.

When we meditate, we can apply a narrow or panoramic attention. An example of using a narrow focus would be attending primarily to your breath (or any single object of focus). The panoramic attention would be when our attention is wide open—when we notice many things going on or just have a general wide view. When, for example, we listen to sounds coming from all directions surrounding us, this is a panoramic attention, or wide focus.

We can even apply an attention in meditation that’s somewhere in between these two. A somewhere-in-between attention might be when a few things are going on and our attention can encompass them, either simultaneously or consecutively. Our lower back is achy, and we’re trying to attend to the pain. And then perhaps we move our attention to a global sense of our body or to a part of our body that feels okay at the moment (typically our hands or feet), so that we’re not overwhelmed by the pain. (This is a helpful recommendation if you’re experiencing pain in meditation.)

Broad, panoramic attention tends to be the type of attention present when we do natural awareness practice. Because most of us gravitate toward a focused attention both in meditation and in daily life, opening up panoramically can actually invite in natural awareness. It counteracts our usual forward-focus tendencies and allows our minds to rest and reset, kind of like a brain vacation.

But broad or panoramic attention does not equal natural awareness; instead, shifting into broad attention will point us in the direction of natural awareness. That’s why many of the glimpse practices in this book focus on broadening our attention. Sometimes as we practice broadening our attention, we find ourselves thoroughly and completely aware, which is close to how I defined natural awareness earlier in the book. And it is also possible to have natural awareness without noticing broadly.

Try broadening your attention right now.

Close your eyes if that is comfortable to you. Start by narrowing your attention to a single area of focus in your body—your abdomen, chest, or nostrils. Try to keep this narrow focus for a few minutes.

Now begin to listen to the sounds around you. Start with sounds nearby, but then listen with an expansive ear. How far away are the sounds you can hear? Listen to the sound that is farthest out. Try this approach to listening for a minute or two.

Now notice your whole body. Can you fully feel your body seated here? Relax and unclench your belly. Imagine you could expand that sense of your body, feeling your body moving out in all directions, including above and below. Try being aware of your expanded body for another minute.

Finally, open your eyes and let your gaze become peripheral—wide open, noticing the space around you. Let your eyes be soft, but take in an expansive view. Keep your stomach relaxed. Explore this expanded view for a few minutes, resting here, and then notice what happens to your awareness.

Continue reading the next step, Dropping Objects, or read the previous step Relaxing Effort.

This is excerpted from The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness by Diana Winston.

 

Diana Winston headshot

Little Book of BeingDiana Winston is the director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the coauthor, with Dr. Susan

Smalley, of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. She is a well‑known teacher and speaker who brings mindful awareness practices to the general public to promote health and well‑being. Called by the LA Times “one of the nation’s best‑known teachers of mindfulness,” she has taught mindfulness since 1993 in a variety of settings, including hospitals, universities, corporations, nonprofits, schools in the US and Asia, and online. She developed the evidence‑based Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) curriculum and the Training in Mindfulness Facilitation, which trains mindfulness teachers worldwide.

Her work has been mentioned or she has been quoted in the New York TimesO, The Oprah Magazine; Newsweek; the Los Angeles TimesAllure; Women’s Health; and in a variety of magazines, books, and journalsShe is also the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, the audio program Mindful Meditations, and has published numerous articles on mindfulness. Diana is a member of the Teacher’s Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California. She has been practicing mindfulness meditation since 1989, including a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma. Currently, Diana’s most challenging and rewarding practice involves trying to mindfully parent an eight‑year‑old. She lives in Los Angeles.

For more information, visit dianawinston.com and marc.ucla.edu.

Buy your copy of The Little Book of Being at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Broadening Attention Pinterest

Diana Winston

Also By Author

The Full Spectrum of Awareness

Diana Winston is the director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, where she developed the Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) curriculum. With Sounds True, Diana is the author of a new book, The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness, and the creator of a new audio teaching series called Glimpses of Being: A Training Course in Expanding Mindful Awareness. In this experiential episode of Insights at the Edge, Diana introduces us to what she calls the “spectrum of awareness” through a series of guided practices. She talks to Tami Simon about the various ways we can access and experience awareness, from narrow and focused to effortless and spacious—states we are constantly moving between. They touch on ways to deepen and explore awareness through “glimpse practices” and discuss how we can work toward making natural awareness our default state. Finally, Diana explains why tapping into the full range of awareness can act as a good antidote for those feeling stuck or restless in their meditation practice.

The Basics of Natural Awareness 101: Dropping Objects

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Dropping Objects Header Image

There are three deliberate mental shifts you can make during classical mindfulness meditation that can help point you toward natural awareness: relaxing effort, broadening attention, and dropping objects.

If you have not read the previous two steps, you can find Relaxing Effort and Broadening Attention on our blog.

Dropping Objects

When you’re practicing classical mindfulness meditation, probably the most important shift you can make to invite in natural awareness is to move your attention from objects to objectless-ness. Now what on earth does that mean?

Objects of meditation are, simply put, the things we focus on, such as the breath, body sensations, emotions, thoughts. An object can also be something outside us, like another person, sights, or sounds. Any kind of thing can be an object of meditation. Taking something as the object of our awareness is basic to classical mindfulness meditation, as you saw in the previous chapters. Focusing on objects and attending to them is generally how we live our life as well.

Objectless awareness, typically developed in meditation and uncommon in daily life, is when we focus less on the objects of awareness and instead focus on the awareness itself. There will be objects arising in our meditation—thoughts, emotions, sensations, for example—but since they are not the focus, they are less distinct, and we become aware of awareness itself. So instead of our anchor being our breath, for example, our anchor is awareness itself.

People tend to experience objectless awareness in three different ways: that in which everything is contained, that which knows, and that which just is.

That in which everything is contained. Broadening attention from a narrow focus to a more panoramic perception is closely aligned with the experience of objectless awareness as that in which everything is contained. You will notice me using analogies like “Our mind is like the sky, and everything in it is like clouds floating by.” This helps me convey the idea that awareness contains everything. So when we turn our attention to the sky-like nature of our mind, noticing the boundless space around things, we are noticing the field of awareness in which everything is contained. Some people experience objectless awareness in this way.

Think about looking out a window at a busy street. When we look out the window, we take in the full view in a relaxed way. Rather than specifically focusing on individual vehicles, we somehow are aware of everything that is happening simultaneously, and our vision seems to contain everything.

That which knows. The second idea that objectless awareness focuses on is a little tricky. Most of us are used to focusing on objects when we meditate, but what happens when we make the shift to noticing that which is being aware—to seeking the knower? Oftentimes this shift can feel quite joyful and freeing. Many of the practices in the book move us toward awareness of awareness, as you will see. If you start searching for the knower, what do you find?

The idea is that we can notice things, and we also notice the thing that notices things. We can take our attention from an outward focus on objects and turn it inward, as if we are reversing our attention—trying to move from that which we are aware of, to that which is aware of what we are aware of.

This is excerpted from The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness by Diana Winston.

Little Book of Being

Diana Winston headshot

Diana Winston is the director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the coauthor, with Dr. Susan

Smalley, of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. She is a well‑known teacher and

speaker who brings mindful awareness practices to the general public to promote health and well‑being. Called by the LA Times “one of the nation’s best‑known teachers of mindfulness,” she has taught mindfulness since 1993 in a variety of settings, including hospitals, universities, corporations, nonprofits, schools in the US and Asia, and online. She developed the evidence‑based Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) curriculum and the Training in Mindfulness Facilitation, which trains mindfulness teachers worldwide.

Her work has been mentioned or she has been quoted in the New York TimesO, The Oprah Magazine; Newsweek; the Los Angeles TimesAllure; Women’s Health; and in a variety of magazines, books, and journalsShe is also the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, the audio program Mindful Meditations, and has published numerous articles on mindfulness. Diana is a member of the Teacher’s Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California. She has been practicing mindfulness meditation since 1989, including a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma. Currently, Diana’s most challenging and rewarding practice involves trying to mindfully parent an eight‑year‑old. She lives in Los Angeles.

For more information, visit dianawinston.com and marc.ucla.edu.

Buy your copy of The Little Book of Being at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Dropping Objects Pinterest

The Basics of Natural Awareness 101: Broadening Attent...

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Broadening Attention Header Image

There are three deliberate mental shifts you can make during classical mindfulness meditation that can help point you toward natural awareness: relaxing effort, broadening attention, and dropping objects.

If you have not read the first step yet, you can find Relaxing Effort on our blog.

Broadening Attention

Your attention can be very narrowly focused or broadly focused. It can also be somewhere in between. You might notice the differences because you naturally adjust the breadth of your attention in life all the time. You are driving your car, and you focus first on your dashboard, and then you automatically shift to a wider peripheral sense of the road in front of you. You are talking with a friend, and you focus on her face, then shift to her whole body, and then notice the room in which you both are sitting.

We can think of the mechanism of attention as being like a camera. Sometimes you use a telescopic lens in order to focus on something quite narrow—maybe taking a close-up of a flower, seeing the intricacies of the stem and petals in detail. Usually we take midrange photos—of our kids, friends at the game, or whatever the selfie du jour is—employing a lens that is not too narrowly focused, but open in a general way. The far end of the spectrum would be when we use a panoramic lens to take an elongated, comprehensive photo of, let’s say, the Grand Canyon.

When we meditate, we can apply a narrow or panoramic attention. An example of using a narrow focus would be attending primarily to your breath (or any single object of focus). The panoramic attention would be when our attention is wide open—when we notice many things going on or just have a general wide view. When, for example, we listen to sounds coming from all directions surrounding us, this is a panoramic attention, or wide focus.

We can even apply an attention in meditation that’s somewhere in between these two. A somewhere-in-between attention might be when a few things are going on and our attention can encompass them, either simultaneously or consecutively. Our lower back is achy, and we’re trying to attend to the pain. And then perhaps we move our attention to a global sense of our body or to a part of our body that feels okay at the moment (typically our hands or feet), so that we’re not overwhelmed by the pain. (This is a helpful recommendation if you’re experiencing pain in meditation.)

Broad, panoramic attention tends to be the type of attention present when we do natural awareness practice. Because most of us gravitate toward a focused attention both in meditation and in daily life, opening up panoramically can actually invite in natural awareness. It counteracts our usual forward-focus tendencies and allows our minds to rest and reset, kind of like a brain vacation.

But broad or panoramic attention does not equal natural awareness; instead, shifting into broad attention will point us in the direction of natural awareness. That’s why many of the glimpse practices in this book focus on broadening our attention. Sometimes as we practice broadening our attention, we find ourselves thoroughly and completely aware, which is close to how I defined natural awareness earlier in the book. And it is also possible to have natural awareness without noticing broadly.

Try broadening your attention right now.

Close your eyes if that is comfortable to you. Start by narrowing your attention to a single area of focus in your body—your abdomen, chest, or nostrils. Try to keep this narrow focus for a few minutes.

Now begin to listen to the sounds around you. Start with sounds nearby, but then listen with an expansive ear. How far away are the sounds you can hear? Listen to the sound that is farthest out. Try this approach to listening for a minute or two.

Now notice your whole body. Can you fully feel your body seated here? Relax and unclench your belly. Imagine you could expand that sense of your body, feeling your body moving out in all directions, including above and below. Try being aware of your expanded body for another minute.

Finally, open your eyes and let your gaze become peripheral—wide open, noticing the space around you. Let your eyes be soft, but take in an expansive view. Keep your stomach relaxed. Explore this expanded view for a few minutes, resting here, and then notice what happens to your awareness.

Continue reading the next step, Dropping Objects, or read the previous step Relaxing Effort.

This is excerpted from The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness by Diana Winston.

 

Diana Winston headshot

Little Book of BeingDiana Winston is the director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the coauthor, with Dr. Susan

Smalley, of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. She is a well‑known teacher and speaker who brings mindful awareness practices to the general public to promote health and well‑being. Called by the LA Times “one of the nation’s best‑known teachers of mindfulness,” she has taught mindfulness since 1993 in a variety of settings, including hospitals, universities, corporations, nonprofits, schools in the US and Asia, and online. She developed the evidence‑based Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) curriculum and the Training in Mindfulness Facilitation, which trains mindfulness teachers worldwide.

Her work has been mentioned or she has been quoted in the New York TimesO, The Oprah Magazine; Newsweek; the Los Angeles TimesAllure; Women’s Health; and in a variety of magazines, books, and journalsShe is also the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, the audio program Mindful Meditations, and has published numerous articles on mindfulness. Diana is a member of the Teacher’s Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California. She has been practicing mindfulness meditation since 1989, including a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma. Currently, Diana’s most challenging and rewarding practice involves trying to mindfully parent an eight‑year‑old. She lives in Los Angeles.

For more information, visit dianawinston.com and marc.ucla.edu.

Buy your copy of The Little Book of Being at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Basics of Natural Awareness: Broadening Attention Pinterest

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Busyness, distraction, and stress have all led to the shrinking of the modern mind.

I realize that’s a strange thing to say. Most of us don’t think of our mind as something with space in it, as a thing that can either be big or small, expensive or claustrophobic.

But just think about the last time you felt overwhelmed, stressed, or out of control. Chances are, you might not even have to think that hard. You might be experiencing that state right now as you read these words.

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Second, we lose perspective. We can’t see the big picture anymore. Instead, it’s like we’re viewing life through a long and narrow tunnel. We become blind to possibility, fixated on problems.

Put these two together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for eradicating space in the mind. The landscape of the mind begins to feel like a calendar jammed with so many meetings, events, and obligations that these neon colored boxes cover-up even the smallest slivers of white space. 

So it could be nice for our partner, for our kids, and, mostly, for our ourselves to consider: how can we create more space in the mind?

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1. Meditation.

You’ve no doubt heard about all of the scientifically validated benefits of this practice. It reduces stress. It boosts productivity. It enhances focus.

That is all true. But here is the real benefit of meditation: it creates more space in the mind. To get started, try it out for just a few minutes a day. Use an app or guided practice to help you.

2. Movement.

So, maybe you’re not the meditating type. That’s fine. You can still create space in the mind by setting aside time for undistracted movement.

The key word here is “undistracted.” For many of us, exercise and movement have become yet another time where our headspace gets covered over by texts, podcasts, or our favorite Netflix series. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. But it can be powerful to leave the earbuds behind every once in a while and allow the mind to rest while you walk, stretch, run, bike, swim, or practice yoga.

3. Relax.

When it comes to creating headspace, we moderns, with our smartphone-flooded, overly-stimulated, minds seem to inevitably encounter a problem: we’re often too stressed, amped, and agitated to open.

Relaxation – calming the nervous system – is perhaps the best way to counter this effect and create more fertile ground for opening. When we relax – the real kind, not the Netflix or TikTok kind –  the grip of difficult emotions loosens, the speed of our whirling thoughts slows, and, most important, the sense of space in our mind begins to expand.

How can you relax? Try yoga. Try extended exhale breathing, where you inhale four counts, exhale eight counts. Try yoga nidra. Or, just treat yourself to a nap.

4. See bigger.

When life gets crazy, the mind isn’t the only thing that shrinks. The size of our visual field also gets smaller. Our eyes strain. Our peripheral vision falls out of awareness.

What’s the antidote to this tunnel vision view? See bigger.

Try it right now. With a soft gaze, allow the edges of your visual field to slowly expand. Imagine you’re seeing whatever happens to be in front of you from the top of a vast mountain peak. Now bring this more expansive, panoramic, way of seeing with you for the rest of the day.

5. Do nothing.

Now for the most advanced practice. It’s advanced because it cuts against everything our culture believes in. In a world where everyone is trying desperately to get more done, one of the most radical acts is to not do — to do nothing.

Even just a few minutes of this paradoxical practice can help you experience an expansion of space in the mind.

Lie on the floor or outside on the grass. Close your eyes. Put on your favorite music if you want. Set an alarm for a few minutes so you don’t freak out too much. 

Then, stop. Drop the technique. Drop the effort. Just allow yourself to savor this rare experience of doing absolutely nothing.

Nate Klemp, PhD, is a philosopher, writer, and mindfulness entrepreneur. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Start Here and the New York Times critics’ pick The 80/80 Marriage. His work has been featured in the LA Times, Psychology Today, the Times of London, and more, and his appearances include Good Morning America and Talks at Google. He’s a cofounder of LifeXT and founding partner at Mindful. For more, visit nateklemp.com or @Nate_Klemp on Instagram.

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