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 spacial relationship between attention and awareness is well established through the 4-Step transition that you learn in Stage 1 (see drawing above). In Step 1, you are opening to whatever is present in your field of conscious awareness. In this step, your attention is allowed to do what it does very naturally: scan. This sense of awareness remains as you move into the body for Step 2. Now you are simply limiting the space in which you allow your attention to scan. Everything that is outside your body remains in the background. Again in Step 3, you reduce the scope of your attention to any breath sensations you feel in the body and allow your attention to scan within those sensations. The area where you feel sensations from the breath will vary as you move up in the stages and that is a really interesting thing to see transform over time. In the last Step, you have limited the scope of attention to a smaller area around the tip of the nose, nostrils and upper lip. The important thing to realize is that your field of conscious awareness remains bright throughout the 4-Step transition even as your attention’s scope becomes smaller and smaller.
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. That is all.
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.
Awareness is like a floodlight and is diffuse. Awareness is spacious, inclusive, reduces the sense of ‘otherness’ so it is non-dualistic, contextual, comprehensive, fast to process and intuitive. We really have no choice about what is in our field of conscious awareness. It truly IS WHAT IS that we can perceive; pure and simple.
Now, lets consider attention. If you look at a similar diagram showing the three functions of attention, you can see that attention is like a spotlight and your awareness is like a floodlight (note that each of the circles in this diagram represent your field of conscious awareness like the previous diagram).
Attention is exclusive, more concerned with the ‘I’ sense, dualistic, analytic and slow to process.
Mindfulness = Awareness (sati)
The relationship between awareness and attention varies depending on what you are doing. In your experience of mindfulness, attention and awareness are working optimally together.
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 better than the other and both situations are useful if your experience is optimized. 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.
Understanding and discerning the special and spacial interaction between attention and awareness will increase your conscious power such that you can have the fullest and most optimal experience in your meditation practice and off the cushion in your daily life.
Resource and for a superb explanation of attention and awareness, see The Mind Illuminated by Upasika Culadasa