Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:12 am

Why the meditation on in breathing and out-breathing shouldn’t be complicated by where one places one’s focus.


In the initial stages of one’s contemplation of breath, the following becomes obvious: the body relaxes with conscious awareness of in and out breathing.

I think that as long as one consciously observes one’s breath, one is practicing the contemplation. I think there’s a good reason why we should hesitate to indoctrinate the contemplation of breath with a focus on one’s nose-tip. I think that as long as the contemplative is focusing on his or her breath, he or she is benefiting from the practice.

The practice essentially trains one to focus only on one’s breath; apart from all other distractions. As breathing is primarily the most essential thing, in an outwardly sense, that a person does in order to survive, meditation on breath directs just such a person towards their most elemental “mode” of being, and removes them from the distractions of an ad hoc existence, where things which should not matter actually do (in the confused mind of us people in our "worlds").

It’s an overstatement to assume that people will be taught to focus on one’s nose in this practice simply because in Buddhaghosa’s commentary and exposition: Path of Purification, he made it a point to say just this. There are likely many people who have attempted mindfulness of breath in a variety of ways only to conclude that the nose-tip is the quintessential focus for the contemplation, having reached a certain level of accomplishment with this certain kind of focus (and not some other kind of focus).

My gratitude towards Bhikkhu Pesala, for the link to the late Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw of Burma's exposition describing a practice which emphasizes focus on the diaphragm, in the thread "So I've Got a Foul Set of Legs".

Reading through the late Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw's short exposition, it appeared to me that many, but not all, of the applications of mindful breathing which are encouraged in the traditional description of the practice (as it is perhaps understood by the majority out there to center on the tip of the nose), with such modes as: eating, walking, bending one’s limbs, urinating, excreting, etc. overlap with a focus on the diaphragm.

Because it is simply the case that when breathing, awareness leads to relaxation - I think it’s fair to suggest that the original sutta on the contemplation can be interpreted with a focus on either the tip of the nose or the centre of the lungs, or the diaphragm itself. In other words, as appicchato mentioned, as long as one "knows" that he is breathing in or he is breathing out, he is practicing the contemplation. It does not matter where one "knows" he is breathing at:

But only if the method allows for the prescribed outcomes. I cannot attest to anything beyond a manifestly impermanent, decaying sense of my body in my attention to breath, so I have no way of knowing if the method leads to all outcomes. I can make a certain kind of statement however.

Attention to the diaphragm ties one to the process of breathing where it manifests physically. Attention to the nostrils ties one to the process of breathing where it manifests in the senses. So there is a pretty big difference in the nature of one’s attention in each of these cases.

With attention to the diaphragm one may experience a relaxing of one’s body in a very physical way; owing to the attention paid to the breathing process. But attention to the air as it comes in and out of the nostrils puts emphasis on the sensation of breathing (not the physical determinant). So, the progress towards a state of understanding that emphasizes a fabricated reality (based on the senses) might only be possible with the awareness of breathing as it relates to sensation and not kinematics.

Possibly. Anyhow.
User avatar
Pondera
 
Posts: 169
Joined: Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:02 pm

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby chownah » Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:15 am

Pondera,
I like your post. There are some things I would like to expand on.

We can not "feel" the breath anywhere. What we feel are bodily sensations. All expereince comes through the six sense doors and from nowhere else. "Breathing" then is a fabrication. We feel various things and interpret them as being the breath. If viewed in this light then there is the question as to which bodily sensation which we interpret as being the breath should we attend to? Usually the choices are either the abdomen or the nose area but there are bodily sensations which arise in other places which we interpet as being breath. If one has an inflamation of the mucous lining the respiratory tract then there are sensations that arise there which can be readily felt.

There are different ways to breathe and many people breathe differently when different emotions arise. When angry or fearful many people tighten their diaphragm and utilize the complex of chest and shoulder muscles to breathe. Breathing using the diaphragm only and relaxing the chest and shoulder muscles is best for meditatian and in fact the sitting postures are good at promoting breathing from the diaphragm and is one reason they are so popular. An advantage of starting meditation by focusing on the diaphragm (it is primarily the diaphragm one is focusing on when one focuses on the abdomen) is that it helps to relax the chest and shoulder muscles and this in turn helps to reduce the arising of distracting emotions and thoughts.

So far I have dodged the question about where we should focus. My view is that in the first step of meditating we need to find a way to get focused on the breathing sensations and for some it will be the nose area and for some it will be the abdomen (diaphragm) and I suppose for some it will be some mentally imageined place or some irritated spot on the mucousa.....but the main thing initially is to get with the breath. Once that initial focus is attained then (in my view) the task is to expand the awareness of all of the sensations that we associate with the breath and to be very sensitive to even the very subtle ones.....it is my view that this is a good way to extend the meditative object toward breathing sensitive to the entire body......and notice that where one starts in this process is really not so important and whatever works best for an individual is what that individual should do.....also note that I am discussing how to get to breathing sensitive to the entire body here and for other meditative practices what I have said might not be correct....for instance there are vipassana meditations that I am not familiar with where there is an insistance on using the nose area and for all I know this may be exactly the best way to achieve whatever it is that they are achieving.......I guss.....but don't know for sure....
chownah
chownah
 
Posts: 2660
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby bodom » Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:34 am

Speaking from my own experience, I have noticed the breath to be coarse at the beginning of a sit and more noticeable in the chest and abdomen area. As concentration develops and the breath becomes more subtle, attention is more easily centered at the nose tip. It is a naturally occurring process.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
User avatar
bodom
 
Posts: 4603
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:18 pm
Location: San Antonio, Texas

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:43 am

It certainly doesn't matter where or how one is aware of breathing as long as it works, that's because what is important is the awareness not the breathing.

Unless of course one is practising towards jhanas where stability of attention on one consistant object is very important.

As you stated awareness of the breath is very useful to to get us to more a "elemental “mode” of being", it's just a tool for the job. Ultimately awareness of everything coming through the sense doors and an understanding of the mind-body process is what we are trying to cultivate.

In Mahasi method it's the noting of all objects that's important, not just the rising and falling of the diaphram.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:53 am

Goofaholix wrote:It certainly doesn't matter where or how one is aware of breathing as long as it works, that's because what is important is the awareness not the breathing.

Unless of course one is practising towards jhanas where stability of attention on one consistant object is very important.

And, relevant, or at least related, to this, I find that different types of focus do have different effects, so if you are trying to follow instructions from a particular teacher then it makes sense to pay attention to their instructions.

So, for example, in my experience (though this seems to be reasonably common observation) I find awareness at the nostrils gives me a more stable single object, whereas the abdomen, being a bit "grosser", is a better place if I want to be aware of whatever is going on, but have the abdominal movement as an "anchor", which is the usual Mahasi-style practice.

:anjali:
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10268
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 3:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:is a better place if I want to be aware of whatever is going on, but have the abdominal movement as an "anchor", which is the usual Mahasi-style practice.


The next step of course is just to be aware of whatever is going on without the need for an anchor (probably not a good idea when one is beginning or when ones mental state is scattered).

This is an important point that seems to get lost in translation at times with people looking at the finger rather than at the moon.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jan 05, 2012 3:47 am

Hi GA,
Goofaholix wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:is a better place if I want to be aware of whatever is going on, but have the abdominal movement as an "anchor", which is the usual Mahasi-style practice.


The next step of course is just to be aware of whatever is going on without the need for an anchor (probably not a good idea when one is beginning or when ones mental state is scattered).

Sure. A few days into a retreat one can "lock on" to almost anything that arises.
But not something I'd suggest to a beginner.
Goofaholix wrote:This is an important point that seems to get lost in translation at times with people looking at the finger rather than at the moon.

I agree that there is far too much made of the differences between the "initial instructions" of various teachers. As far as I can see, hints designed to get people started are not necessarily supposed to be of some huge dhammic significance (e.g. counting breaths, labelling, generating metta by thinking about a kitten, or whatever...).

:anjali:
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10268
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby befriend » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:02 am

tip of nose or around the nose = samatha,

rising motions of abdomen = vipassana


motion of feet in walking meditation = vipassana

totally different meditations if you want to collect your mind and suppress hindrances do samatha.
if you want to chip away at defilements practice vipassana. thats why they teach samatha first then vipassana, to calm the mind collect it
then its easier to do vipassana cause your not daydreaing so much and your attention isnt like a monkey in the jungle.
samatha will never abolish defilments only suppress them and cause a pleasant abiding. vipassana is taught as what will eradicate defiments because
it gives you panna which is experiential insights into impermanence suffering and nonself.
befriend
 
Posts: 794
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:39 am

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:10 am

befriend wrote:tip of nose or around the nose = samatha,
rising motions of abdomen = vipassana
motion of feet in walking meditation = vipassana


The chosen object doesn't determine whether one is practising samatha or vipassana, though the objects are generally a bit more suited for the different approaches in the way you've stated above, but certainly not = to them.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:13 am

mikenz66 wrote:generating metta by thinking about a kitten, or whatever...).


Thinking about a kitten leads to cattiness, abstaining from which is a good candidate for a 6th precept.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby befriend » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:20 am

who is your teacher? this is not how i was taught at all. what is your experience with samatha and vipassana. i know from experience what i posted is accurate.
befriend
 
Posts: 794
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:39 am

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Brizzy » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:47 am

befriend wrote:tip of nose or around the nose = samatha,

rising motions of abdomen = vipassana


motion of feet in walking meditation = vipassana........


Hi,

I really can't understand why this would be so. Besides having no sutta support for such an idea, I really can't see why one portion of your body would be any different from another. If I concentrated on my navel would I metamorphose into a Hindu?

Metta

:smile:
Ignorance is an intentional act.
Brizzy
 
Posts: 138
Joined: Sun Oct 30, 2011 7:58 am

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby befriend » Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:10 am

why dont you try it yourself and find out before you use your papanca to decide for you. how do you think buddha entererd Jhana as a hindu practitioner before he discovered vipassana? by practicing samatha. how do you think people practice samatha.
befriend
 
Posts: 794
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:39 am

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby befriend » Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:21 am

when i focus on my breathing at the tip of the nose i feel incredibly calm rapturous single mindedly collected happy and have gotten to access concentration. NOW when i do walking meditation or mindfulness of abdominal motions also mindfulness of hand movements i feel energized less calm than the nose meditation and have insights into impermanence suffering and nonself. ive have experienced this for myself not from my papanca, and from my teacher who was authorized to teach by an 80 year old thai monk. who is your teacher or are you just letting your monkey mind express itself the thing in which you so hoped to tame.
befriend
 
Posts: 794
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:39 am

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby manas » Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:23 am

Whatever way the breath can be felt so that it is easy to keep it in mind, is the best way. This will be different for different people, I'd say. Ultimately awareness is going to expand out into the entire body anyway, so the exact place from which we begin is not that important. I'm not sure if others can relate, but the hindrance of restlessness is almost always an issue, and so I examine different aspects of the breath, and focus on the most soothing one I can find. This will be different for different folks too, I imagine.
______________________*__*__*______________________

I could die today, and I don't want to die without having done
some citta-bhavana, so I will do some citta-bhavana today.
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2106
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:57 pm

befriend wrote:who is your teacher? this is not how i was taught at all. what is your experience with samatha and vipassana. i know from experience what i posted is accurate.


You might want to indicate who or which post you are responding to, especially if you are disagreeing with somebody otherwise who will know what prompted your post.

Anyway I'll assume it's me, and not so much about my post about kittens.

I've been practising about 16 years with probably 20-30 different teachers, very little samatha though, I'd consider my current main teacher Sayadaw U Teganiya.

To respond to your point though to give just one example of a teacher who taught watching the breath at the nostrils is Ajahn Buddhadasa. He taught samatha at first then gave the option of staying with samatha, or changing to vipassana later while still using the breath at the nostrils as the primary object.

Ajahn Chah taught you can't have samatha without vipassana, nor vis versa, both are two ends of the same knife.

Having done many Mahasi style quite a bit I find the emphasis can be either on the rising and falling (samatha) or on the mental noting of various changing objects (vipassana) depending on the emphasis the teacher thinks you need at the time.

In pali the word Vipassana does not mean a technique, it is the insight that arises. This insight can arise regardless of what technique you use, some techniques are more suited for it than others as I've already pointed out, but ultimately the technique is supposed to get you to the point where you are practising awareness throughout your daily activities and therefore insight can arise at any time.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:17 pm

befriend wrote:when i focus on my breathing at the tip of the nose i feel incredibly calm rapturous single mindedly collected happy and have gotten to access concentration. NOW when i do walking meditation or mindfulness of abdominal motions also mindfulness of hand movements i feel energized less calm than the nose meditation and have insights into impermanence suffering and nonself. ive have experienced this for myself not from my papanca, and from my teacher who was authorized to teach by an 80 year old thai monk. who is your teacher or are you just letting your monkey mind express itself the thing in which you so hoped to tame.


I think what you say rings true. Also what Mikenz66 said about the abdomen being an "anchor". Along with what bodem said about one's attention naturally coming form the chest or abdomen towards the nose. In fact, thank you befriend...I had my own short dhammic moment with your initial post.

I don't "find" a lot of time to sit-and-meditate. I'll be doing it when I remember. Often, I find myself meditating when I drive. I think I have this aversion to going ahead and sitting, because if I do this I formally agree with my self that "I am now going to meditate". Within the context of driving I subdivide my attention between driving and focusing on my breath (in my chest area - because I find it easy to maintain awareness there).

Probably sounds dangerous. To meditate while one drives a car. :) No accidents so far. To be honest, I'm responsible in a sense that when I focus simply on my breath while I drive, I take greater care to drive more safely. It actually seems that my intentions to go over the speed limit and so on fade away with concentration on breath. So, it's as if the hubris that comes with breaking the speed limit is, as it should be, calmed by focusing on the breath.

I don't set any goals to arrive in a state of rapture while I drive and breath.

Anyhow. I simply find it useful.
--------------------------------------------
Another question/observation.

Obviously, time of day impacts our actions and our bodies functions. So if one turns his awareness to his body will he tune in to those parts of the body which are active at that time of the day.

For example. Last night, around ten, I found myself breathing (big surprise. I guess I wasn't dead last night). My attention sette...I was laying down. I think that's relevant. So...my attention settled on my skeleton and no other thing.

My question is: are there certain times of the day that are better than others for particular contemplations?
User avatar
Pondera
 
Posts: 169
Joined: Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:02 pm

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Viscid » Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:41 pm

befriend wrote:when i focus on my breathing at the tip of the nose i feel incredibly calm rapturous single mindedly collected happy and have gotten to access concentration. NOW when i do walking meditation or mindfulness of abdominal motions also mindfulness of hand movements i feel energized less calm than the nose meditation and have insights into impermanence suffering and nonself. ive have experienced this for myself not from my papanca, and from my teacher who was authorized to teach by an 80 year old thai monk. who is your teacher or are you just letting your monkey mind express itself the thing in which you so hoped to tame.

:?
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
User avatar
Viscid
 
Posts: 896
Joined: Fri Jul 09, 2010 8:55 pm
Location: Toronto, Canada

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby manas » Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:58 pm

Goofaholix wrote:Ajahn Chah taught you can't have samatha without vipassana, nor vis versa, both are two ends of the same knife.


From the Dhammapada:

Natthi jhānaṃ apaññassa
Paññā natthi ajhāyato
Yamhi jhānaṃ ca paññā ca
Sa ve nibbāṇasantike.

There is no meditative concentration for him who lacks insight, and no insight for him who lacks meditative concentration. He in whom are found both meditative concentration and insight, indeed, is close to Nibbana.


:anjali:
Last edited by manas on Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
______________________*__*__*______________________

I could die today, and I don't want to die without having done
some citta-bhavana, so I will do some citta-bhavana today.
User avatar
manas
 
Posts: 2106
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:04 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:03 pm

Pondera wrote:Probably sounds dangerous. To meditate while one drives a car. :) No accidents so far. To be honest, I'm responsible in a sense that when I focus simply on my breath while I drive, I take greater care to drive more safely. It actually seems that my intentions to go over the speed limit and so on fade away with concentration on breath. So, it's as if the hubris that comes with breaking the speed limit is, as it should be, calmed by focusing on the breath.


Trying to be in touch with the breath while you are performing another activity can at times be helpful to ground you when you are feeling anxious, or scattered, or tired.

However if you're trying to split your attention as an ongoing practise when undertaking a potentially dangerous activity that requires your full present moment attention it seems to me you are missing the point of breath meditation.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1923
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Next

Return to Theravada Meditation

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests