Message Boards Message Boards

Concentration

John Yates - dual attention

John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/22/18 8:26 PM
Hi,

I'm finding it impossible to hold dual focus attention on the breath and the peripheral awareness.  Neuroscience says you can't hold more than one focus in attention at once.  I can understand that the subconscious keeps watch as awareness, and I can understand that excessive effort on the target (breath) can cause the peripheral attention to close down.  But dual focus... doesn't sound right to me.  What's he saying please?

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/22/18 9:27 PM as a reply to Selfie.
Maybe what he's saying is one should not put too much concentration effort onto the breath.  Doing this will allow peripheral awareness to remain open and active.  When I do that, I find awareness remains open, but of course I still have to switch my attention to it in order to know.  After a while I sort of get a whiff of peripheral awareness coming into the breath, I think.  What's your experience?

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 1:01 AM as a reply to Selfie.
I agree with you - it doesn't make much sense to me either. I think he's saying attention flickers around to a lot of things, and everything within the scope of the flickering is "awareness." So you're not actually aware of it all at one time.

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 6:49 AM as a reply to J C.
JC, I think I just need to read more.  There's a thing he's calling 'interoceptive metacognition', which I think might be the ablity to hold both attention and awareness. 

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 7:17 AM as a reply to Selfie.
You have attention. You have awareness.

Attention can't attend to itself. So you need awareness to know that you are aware and that you are paying attention and to what you are paying attention. That is "metacognitive awareness".

In daily life you are mostly "not present", that means that there is no metacognitive awareness. So if you drive a car for instance. There is of course awareness but you are not aware that you are aware. Also when you are driving a car attention will scan and alternate between what you see on the road, sensations from the driving wheel etc.

According to TMI you have "limited conscious power". That means especially in difficult situation awareness might almost completely fall off and of course metacognitive awareness as well (that is probably the first to go). So if you go down the street with your kid and you see a car about to hit your child, attention will zoom in on it and almost all conscious power will be focused on it, so that there will be barely any awareness left.

When you are aware that you are aware through metacognitive awareness that doesn't mean that you are conscious of specific objects. That is always attention (or that's how I understand it at least).

The most helpful practical tipp regarding awareness is to just intend it. In time it will become clearer what it actually is.

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 7:24 AM as a reply to Michael.
To start a riff from Michael's comment --

You can be attentive of being attentive, which I assume is what Yates is calling metacognitive awareness. It's the same kind of thing that's going on, in my experience. Everything is an object, including being "aware" of being attentive. We can have endless debates about what "awareness" really is but why bother when we can simply observe what the mind is doing when it thinks it's aware?


emoticon

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 7:38 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I mean, it's not really clear to what extent the multitude of "theories" in TMI really correspond to "real phenomena" or are simply there as an conceptual aid to practice. He mentions that himself in regards to his "sub-mind" model.

Although my sense is that he thinks that indeed, attention and awareness are two real, distinctive modes of knowing. But it also gets more fuzzy later because he described how in higher stages of concentration the scope of attention can broaden and encompass all of awareness. Or just more general that the "scope" of attention can expand and contract at all.

If we look specifically at the field of view as an analogy: You will find that you can focus your eyes just on one very small detail. Like if I focus on a single letter on a page and don't move my eyes at all "awareness" (peripheral sight) already starts at the letter right next to it. If I take a slightly bigger object, like a watch and hold it 50cm in front of my eyes I find it hart/impossible to focus the same way on the whole watch face as I have focused on the whole letter.

So with attention it also seems to be just one single object but the rest of the world doesn't vanish (unless awareness collapses in extreme situations) so I think  it probably is justified to view those two modes as "real". Yates then adds more to those two modes and views them as "ways to know the world". That almost amounts to a similar distinction Daniel Kahnemann has in his book "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow", where he distinguishes between "System 1" and System 2":
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 8:02 AM as a reply to Michael.
Again, this is just my experience but when I'm aware of the rest of the world when focusing more discretely on just one object, what I'm experiencing is a mental model of the rest of the world as it's being rapidly interspersed with the experience of that one object. It may seem like the rest of the world doesn't vanish but that's because I have a model of it in my head. That's a valid, real object, of course, but it's a mental model, not a direct sensory experience in the same way sounds, sights, feel, etc. are. The revolutionary change for me has been this recognition of the non-hierarchical nature of experience, which I assume Culadasa is on board with - but I really don't know.

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 8:27 AM as a reply to Selfie.
I don't know if this applies to your question, and I'm not familiar with TMI.

If I go years back, mindfulness of breath practice felt like "I" was "focusing on the breath". This experience felt constricted. It felt like a lazer beam trying to catch the breath. Now, within a few minutes of sitting, the experience is more like "breath sensations are coming and going within an enlarged field of awareness." It feels like a big light illuminates a whole room (vs. the earlier lazer beam). Breath sensations come and go within that "room". This also makes other objects of experience (thoughts, sounds, sensations) seem like the same stuff as the breath, arising and passing experiences. 

I don't know if this is what is meant by the dual attention though, but I thought it might.

Benoit

Ps. I'm using the term "awareness" loosely here. That sense of big space encompassing the breath and other experiences is also contemplated as another object of experience at some point within a meditation session. This big space that "seems" aware of other objects, I don't think is aware of anything in reality, since it is an object of experience too (one formation cannot be aware of another formation I think). Anyway, this may be another discussion... Awareness is a mysterious thing. 

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 9:08 AM as a reply to Selfie.
I'll pick people's quotes from here and there (them >, me -).

>Selfie: dual attention... I'm finding it impossible to hold dual focus attention on the breath and the peripheral awareness... excessive effort on the target (breath) can cause the peripheral attention to close down.

- So what you are doing, is being focused on one point (movement of breath) while having a 360 degree/three-dimensional space around this point. Is that right? I would call this intention and attention combined. In Tibetan terms (at least accordning to some lineages) it would be shamatha with support and without support combined.

>Michael: You have attention. You have awareness.

- To avoid confusion between terms, they way I define attention, has to do with peripheral attention. Both intention and attention involve doing, whether that of light or strong focus. I use the term awareness for the natural state, in the same way as in mahamudra and dzogchen. Awareness is different becase there is no doing, not even feather light focus.

>Chris Marti: You can be attentive of being attentive, which I assume is what Yates is calling metacognitive awareness. It's the same kind of thing that's going on, in my experience. Everything is an object, including being "aware" of being attentive. We can have endless debates about what "awareness" really is but why bother when we can simply observe what the mind is doing when it thinks it's aware?

- How are you attentive of being attentive? Is there effort involved or not? Can you comment what you mean by, "Everything is an object, including being "aware" of being attentive" and "why bother when we can simply observe what the mind is doing when it thinks it's aware"?

>Michael: Although my sense is that he thinks that indeed, attention and awareness are two real, distinctive modes of knowing. But it also gets more fuzzy later because he described how in higher stages of concentration the scope of attention can broaden and encompass all of awareness. Or just more general that the "scope" of attention can expand and contract at all.

- What is "higher stage of concentration"? Also "the scope of attention can broaden and encompass all of awareness"? If he is not talking about intention and attention, as defined above, its pretty fuzzy. Attention as I define it can be expanded like a rubber band. That is nice but ultimately not very useful. You mention the term "knowing". Knowing awareness (tib. rigpa), on the other hand is the heart and soul of buddhism, buddhanature itself, demanding that there is no effort/focus involved at all.

- The difference between attention and awareness can be described for example in these two ways. 1. Look at this letter: 0. As you are looking, and therefore attentive of the figure, at the basis of your looking there is knowing of looking. In the same way, if you choose a sound to listen to, there is knowing at the basis of hearing. This basic knowing comes with and is at the base of all perceptions. 2. Take either or both of the described exercises. Look at the bolded zero, 0, with keenness. As you still see the zero, completely relax the muscles in and around the eyes. When you do this, basic awareness without focus/effort automatically clicks on.

- Now if we think about the triune continuum of intention, attention and awareness, utimately they are all nondual. It is not possible to get to this point just through intention and attention exercises.








 

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 11:57 AM as a reply to Kim Katami.
The difference between attention and awareness can be described for example in these two ways. 1. Look at this letter: 0. As you are looking, and therefore attentive of the figure, at the basis of your looking there is knowing of looking. In the same way, if you choose a sound to listen to, there is knowing at the basis of hearing. This basic knowing comes with and is at the base of all perceptions. 2. Take either or both of the described exercises. Look at the bolded zero, 0, with keenness. As you still see the zero, completely relax the muscles in and around the eyes. When you do this, basic awareness without focus/effort automatically clicks on.

The knowing of looking is another way to say you are attentive to being attentive. It's usually self-referential: "I'm looking at a bolded zero.". You are thus "aware" of looking at the bolded zero. This realization of what is occurring right now (looking at a bolded zero, listening to music, watching a baseball game, reading a book, etc.) can be intentionally investigated and it can indeed appear on its own. Either way, it's another mental process that can be examined and investigated.

The part that's not obvious to me is when you say "In the same way, if you choose a sound to listen to, there is knowing at the basis of hearing. This basic knowing comes with and is at the base of all perceptions." Can you explain this better? Is it required of hearing that sound be accompanied by the awareness that one is listening?



RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 12:35 PM as a reply to Selfie.
Selfie:
Hi,

I'm finding it impossible to hold dual focus attention on the breath and the peripheral awareness.  Neuroscience says you can't hold more than one focus in attention at once.  I can understand that the subconscious keeps watch as awareness, and I can understand that excessive effort on the target (breath) can cause the peripheral attention to close down.  But dual focus... doesn't sound right to me.  What's he saying please?
You might want to post your question on https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMindIlluminated/ There are several very good teachers and teachers-in-training there who can give you a refined view and/or tips. 

The TMI instructions are counterintuitive. My understanding is that your job isn't 'to hold dual focus attention on the breath and peripheral awareness.' 

Your job is simply to (1) set the intention to savor those moments when you discover that attention has returned to the breath and (2) just allow everything that isn't the breath to be exactly as it is; let it come, let it be, let it go.

When you do this, you might find that there's a sense of a bigger space, more relaxation, a more open practice than a tight, exclusive focus on the nostrils. That's peripheral awareness. Culadasa uses an analogy along the lines of 'when you carry a cup of boiling tea across a room, your attention is on the tea and keeping it from spilling, but your awareness of the rest of the room is just there on its own as well.' 

What can happen is that attention learns to return to the breath on its own, sooner and sooner after moving off of the object, without 'you' having to 'do' anything (other than savor moments of coming back). You can let peripheral awareness take care of itself.

But others might have clearer and better thoughts on this...  

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 12:41 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
>Chris Marti: The knowing of looking is another way to say you are attentive to being attentive. It's usually self-referential: "I'm looking at a bolded zero.". You are thus "aware" of looking at the bolded zero. This realization of what is occurring right now (looking at a bolded zero, listening to music, watching a baseball game, reading a  book, etc.) can be intentionally investigated and it can indeed appear on its own. Either way, it's another mental process that can be examined and investigated.

The part that's not obvious to me is when you say "In the same way, if you choose a sound to listen to, there is knowing at the basis of hearing. This basic knowing comes with and is at the base of all perceptions." Can you explain this better? Is it required of hearing that sound be accompanied by the awareness that one is listening?

- The word attentive or attention implies being attentive, just like cats and dogs raise their ears when they hear some unfamiliar or suspicious sound. From the point of view of the natural state this is already elaboration. I'm way off topic, actually, but the reason why I am is because the whole paradigm of traditional mind training is barking at the wrong tree and can never truly satisfy one's hunger. The natural state, recognition of wakeful awareness, should be prioritized because that is the bedrock of all paths, methods and practices. The way how this can be done is something I have extensively discussed in my book, What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice.

- As I mentioned in my message, both intention and attention, basic shamatha practices, are essentially nondual and not separate or different from the foundational shamatha, that is, the natural state. When the natural state is familiarised with, all actions, including meditation exercises, become illuminated by it and integrated into it. This cannot be accomplished by intention and attention alone. Exercises of intention (one pointed focus) and attention (three-dimensional space focus, peripheral) is like focusing on the branches of a tree, while awareness is the root and the trunk of it.

- Awareness stands alone and there is no slightest effort in it. Does this answer your question? However, even if for a moment stuff is gone from the mind and there is no seeking or any focus, one likely does not recognise the wakefulness correctly because of the subtle veils, subtle foggyness. Here, again dynamic concentration, as described in my book, is extremely precious.

 


RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 1:28 PM as a reply to Kim Katami.
... the whole paradigm of traditional mind training is barking at the wrong tree and can never truly satisfy one's hunger. The natural state, recognition of wakeful awareness, should be prioritized because that is the bedrock of all paths, methods and practices. The way how this can be done is something I have extensively discussed in my book, What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice.


Kim, I understand what you're saying completely, but there are other viable paths and practices. I'd ask you to be more aware of that  emoticon

What I'm not on board with is the notion that there is only one correct way to see and pursue the path, investigate experience, and awaken. That's just not true and it never has been. Yes, there are major differences in the approach taken by the various Buddhist traditions but that's not license for anyone to claim "this is the better path" or worse, "this is the only proper path. That's rather small-minded and I'm pretty sure you'd agree.

People awaken in lots of ways.

Can you explain what "natural state" is but without selling your book at the same time? Seriously. My version would be to throw a drinking glass really hard at a cement wall. How about you?

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 1:51 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
There's a Korean Zen teacher who demonstrates the natural state by asking the assembled sanga what it is.

"What is it?," he'll ask them.

"What is it?"

WHAT IS IT?

The teacher eventually slams a heavy book to the floor, making a loud noise.

That is your natural state.

WHAM!!

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 2:28 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
>Chris Marti: Kim, I understand what you're saying completely, but there are other viable paths and practices. I'd ask you to be more aware of that  emoticon What I'm not on board with is the notion that there is only one correct way to see and pursue the path, investigate experience, and awaken. That's just not true and it never has been. Yes, there are major differences in the approach taken by the various Buddhist traditions but that's not license for anyone to claim "this is the better path" or worse, "this is the only proper path. That's rather small-minded and I'm pretty sure you'd agree.
People awaken in lots of ways.
Can you explain what "natural state" is but without selling your book at the same time? Seriously. My version would be to throw a drinking glass really hard at a cement wall. How about you?

- It depends what you mean by awakening. There are many wonderful systems that are good on basic shamatha and vipashyana, that reveal the selfless nature of thoughts and emotions but their effectiveness seems to end there. No one really seems to have the complete picture and a method that carries all the way to perfect enlightenment (buddhahood), and therefore many don't even consider its possible. Theoretically, Tibetans (nyingma and kagyu) do but practically for their systems to be effective, they seem to require a lot of time reserved solely for practice (retreat conditions). Despite of some improvements in mahayana-vajrayana buddhist theory, their practitioners really don't seem to get much farther than theravadans, unless practice is all they do.

- My own work is still a hypothesis, just for the record, and I'm not trying to sell it to you. I'm just saying that from what we have seen so far, combining practices such as dynamic concentration, with basic practices such as refuge and bodhicitta, enables anyone to cut through the layers of the samsaric mind, so that recognition of the natural state (dharmakaya) can take place within a very short time of practice. From this standpoint, (view from the top of the mountain), it is very different to look at what arises in the mind, than from light focus shamatha practices (view from the foot of the mountain). I'm not denying the value of concentration and attention practices, just saying that there is a more effective option available. And I'm not saying this option is easy either.

- If you got the natural state, there is no need to do anything special, even though it can be done too. Boo!

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 3:28 PM as a reply to Kim Katami.
Kim, glad to hear you're advancing a hypothesis and not a set of final conclusions. I'd like to think we're all willing to keep an open mind. I don't know of any legitimate teachers or long-term practitioners of Buddhism in its various forms who believe anyone has all the answers.

Boo! back at ya!

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/23/18 7:24 PM as a reply to Michael.
Thanks everyone.  Michael and Tashi - most helpful.

Michael -  I gently pay attention to the breath, intend awareness, then hopefully some awareness of both will emerge.  Is that right? 

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/24/18 2:19 AM as a reply to Selfie.
Yes, exactly. I re-formulate what you said with my own words here:

I would strongly recommend to use the "4 stage" approach when you start meditating. (In the book in the chapter "Stage One", page 46 -52).
The reason for this is, that it helps you to get to know attention and awareness.

So when you start meditating you let attention roam freely. That is basically "choiceless awareness". You just sit. And you will find that some objects will become the focus of your attention. Whether it is what you see, hear, feel inside or outside of your body.

Next you limit the scope of attention to inside your body and let attention roam there etc. (it would take too much space here to fully recount the pages here, so please read them).

So then at last you reach your final meditation object and limit the scope of attention to it: The sensations of the breath in and around your nose and your upper lip.
Then you can experiment a bit. Set different goals for different meditation sessions. Generally you are right, that the attention should be held gently. But you can try to hold it strongly, as to get a sense for the difference. If you focus all your conscious power on the sensations of the breath and focus on it very strongly then there might be hardly any left for awareness. Like Yates writes, that might lead to pleasurable states of concentration but it usually a dead end and also promotes dullness.

So you intend to hold attention on the sensations of the breath and explore them. You will find many more specific directions in the book in the chapters "stage 2" and "stage 3". And then, yes, you also intend to sustain (peripheral) awareness.

I also would think less in the sense that "awareness will emerge". It's more like: Awareness is there already, it's just that it takes a while to understand and recognize it properly. It's like learning a language, where in the beginning everything sounds the same and like one string of gibberish and later on you learn to distinguish automatically between questions, commands, declarations, adjectives, pronomes etc.

RE: John Yates - dual attention
Answer
10/24/18 2:20 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
...I don't know of any legitimate teachers or long-term practitioners of Buddhism in its various forms who believe anyone has all the answers.

Boo! back at ya!

I have the opposite impression from a lot of teachers and practitioners. People have a lot of faith towards their traditions and time tested training systems, and are confident that their boats will carry, which to varying degrees they do.