One of the many super qualities of the TMI technique is the skill learned in discerning the space of attention from the space of awareness whilst keeping both vivid and in an optimal relationship. It is this quality that allows a refinement and strengthening of conscious power. The skill also allows for the possibility and recognition of Insights in the early stages of meditative development.
The difference between awareness and attention is confusing for a lot of people. I will try to briefly explain the difference. I hope it helps! Just to note that I will assume your eyes are closed and you are in your meditation seat (if your eyes are open obviously there is a LOT more sensory input coming into the mind system).
What is in your field of conscious awareness now?
Anything you can perceive.
Your field of conscious awareness is both introspective and extrospective so the field is anything you can perceive on the both outside and inside of your body. Here is a list (not completely comprehensive, but extensive) of some things that might be in your field of awareness:
Inside your body:
· sight - subtle light and dark through your closed eyes
· sound/vibration - emanating from within your body
· taste - anything you taste in the mouth/on the lips
· touch – physical : clothing/air on the skin, pressure, tingling, itching, discomfort, pain, your sense body position in space (proprioception)
· feelings – emotional (physical component, too, but strongly associated with stories/narratives)
Outside your body:
· Sense of location
Your attention at the nose is the blue dot and your awareness is the green circle.
Imagine that your attention is the blue dot in the center and the green circle is your field of awareness. In TMI, we try to keep the attention placed at the nose and all other phenomena in the field of awareness. The outer edge of the green circle is the outer perceiving limit and might be the sounds of an airplane or sounds coming from a great distance.
Awareness is spacious, inclusive, reduces the sense of ‘otherness’, contextual, comprehensive, fast to process and intuitive. Often, we really have no choice about what is in our field of conscious awareness. It truly IS WHAT IS, pure and simple.
Now, lets consider attention. If you look at the diagram again, you can see that attention is like a spotlight and your awareness is like a floodlight. When you do anything, you direct your attention (consciously or unconsciously) to an object within the field of awareness and then with your intention you sustain it for a period of time depending on what you are doing.
If you are meditating in the TMI technique, your intention directs your attention to the sensations resulting from your breathing at tip of your nose again and again. Everything else remains in spacious awareness. The scope of your attention can be broad or narrow as needed.
Attention is exclusive, more concerned with the ‘I’ sense, analytic and slow to process.
The relationship between awareness and attention varies depending on what you are doing. When they are working together optimally, it is called mindfulness or sati (in Pali).
The optimal relationship between them depends on the task at hand. You can have a lot of attention at the expense of awareness and the opposite, too, where you are all in awareness at the expense of attention. One isn’t good or bad and both are useful if used optimally. For example, in the Stage 5 body scan, attention expands to include larger areas of the body such that the spacial relationship between attention and awareness shifts to accommodate. When in meditative absorption practicing the jhanas, the spacial relationship tips towards attention even more.
The important thing is to understand that refined and useful mindfulness depends on the optimal relationship between attention/awareness relative to the task at hand. Understanding what each does and how to use your intentions to optimize their relationship can help you integrate a strong mindfulness practice across the spectrum of activities in your life.
Meditating is an excellent way to explore the relationship between attention, awareness, intentions, and effort. The more you practice the more skillful, easeful and effortless mindfulness becomes!
Resource and for a superb explanation of attention and awareness, see The Mind Illuminated by Upasika Culadasa