Question on Focus

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

Post by Collective » Sun May 16, 2010 11:10 pm

I may have mentioned this before, where your focus is when multiple things occur.

For example, sitting meditation. You focus on the breath, then you get an itch. Ah ha! Do you focus on the itch, or stay with the breath?

Another example, you are walking through a tree covered trail. You focus on your steps, a squirrel runs across your path, and a bird flies overhead. Which is the point of focus?

I ask because I was walking this path the other week, and I made myself become conscious of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. I toyed with each one in turn: the greenery, the bird calls, the grassy scent, the wind on my skin, and the spittle in my mouth.

I realised I couldn't focus on more than one at the same time. Thus it is when I mediate.

Is it possible to focus on multiple things simultaneously?

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by Sekha » Mon May 17, 2010 12:35 am

Hi Collective,
This will be only personnal view and should be taken as such.

During breath awareness, focus on breath only. Don't give any importance to the itching, otherwise your meditation is gone. Over time, you won't feel attracted to sensations of itching. Your meditation will be much easier and more concentrated.

When you walk, the best is to focus on the internal body sensations. The Buddha praised the constant mindfulness of the body. That is, at our level, any sensation or feeling coming up. For example the contact between the soles of the feet and the ground. It is better to stay focused on one thing only, and to focus inward. So I would let squirrels run and birds fly without paying attention to them.

It might be possible to focus on multiple things simultaneously, but I think it would be done only at a high stage. Again, this is not advisable for us beginners.

hoping to be helpful

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by retrofuturist » Mon May 17, 2010 12:41 am

Greetings Collective,
Collective wrote:Is it possible to focus on multiple things simultaneously?
You can be conscious of multiple things simultaneously (though Abhidhammists might disagree) but you can only focus on one thing at a time. The intentional direction of emphasis is known as manasikāra (attention). It is part of nama.

Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by jcsuperstar » Mon May 17, 2010 12:46 am

if the breath is your object you stay with the breath until you can no longer stay with the breath, if the itch becomes too strong notice your feelings to want to scratch etc (thoughts are now your focus) or if you just scratch before you realize then use the body as your object, your hand moving etc.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by Collective » Mon May 17, 2010 2:09 am

Thank you all for clarifying that for me

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by PeterB » Mon May 17, 2010 7:05 am

Many people practice "noting "..whwn a sense objects intrudes..whether an itch or an overhead plane or anything else one "notes" it..saying "itching itching" or" hearing hearing.. ".without developing a narrative. In other words if a dog barks you stay with " hearing hearing" do not add "dog" or "whose dog"..just then return to the breath.

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by Goofaholix » Mon May 17, 2010 8:16 am

As I mentioned last time you asked a similar question focus is not really the right word to use, I think you should get rid of the word "focus". I think focus carries the connotation of squinting and trying to extract just a little bit more from the object, no wonder you find it hard to be aware of multiple things as they arise and pass away.

Even concentration techniques are not so much about focus but about parking the awareness in a certain spot and letting the mind settle there, I think.

You should think of awareness as a floodlight, not a spotlight. A floodlight casts it's light over a large area illuminating everything, it doesn't jump from place to place all the time like a spotlight trying to keep track of everything.

Anyway here's what I wrote last time;
You can't be aware of the breath in the past, you can't be aware of the breath in the future, you can only be aware of the breath in the present moment. So breath awareness is present moment awareness by definition. Think of breath awareness as using training wheels, or an anchor, it's a good idea to master this before you go onto broader/looser techniques.

You may choose to narrow your awareness to the breath to the exclusion of other things, this is good if your mind is untrained and tends to wander all over the place.

You may choose to expand your awareness to include anything or everything that comes through your 6 sense doors, this is good if you can do it and maintain it. This does not mean you focus on your surroundings, it means you expand your awareness to the contact all your senses have with your surroundings. The distinction is important, for example you aren't so much interested in a sound and who is making it and why, you are interested that hearing is taking place.

I think focus is never the right word to use, unless you are interested in concentration rather than insight, even then it's really about letting go rather than focus.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by whitewedding » Wed May 19, 2010 7:05 pm

I tend to do simultaneous sammatha and satipatthana. I'll stay centred on the breath whilst simultaneously watching the sensations in my body arise and pass away.

However the (momentary) concentration on the sensations is kind of the inverse of the (fixed) concentration on the breath. I make it so that I have a kind of a leash on the breath. So I'm on the breath, then sensation comes up and my mind is catapulted into the sensation and then it springs back onto the breath. As soon as it reaches the breath another sensation happens...

I developed this by firstly getting on the breath then waiting for a sensation to arise. When the sensation arose I'd maintain awareness on the sensation and make sure it didn't spread out around the sensation (this way you are focusing on a tiny sensation which passes very quickly). As soon as it passed I'd ignore all other sensations and go back to the breath. When I was fully on it is was my cue to "listen" for the next sensation.

Now as this became more automatic I'd drop into the breath (far more than sammatha alone) and it would be as if the momentary concentration would be me looking through windows in the fixed concentration (the 2 were simultaneous).

The levels of clarity (coupled with a massively expanded periphery awareness) I got doing this were far surpassing what I got with straight sammatha.

So yeah - In my experience the periphery and centred concentration are inverses - you don't want to "look directly at" the distration (i.e. turn awareness towards it), you want to be simply retaining the awareness of the distraction as it comes into awareness if you get what I mean. The centred concentration on the other hand is develop by continually turning awareness towards the primary object.
If you can get to the point were you are getting the distraction as it's coming in, then try narrowing the focus of it (you can't "try" to do this - you'll miss the target and shoot out into darkness and it will hurt your head (well - that's what it did to me) - you've just got to do it (basically "think" - I'm going to do this and see if it then happens automatically after you've instructed your mind to do that).

Hope this helps.
Steve :-)

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Re: Question on Focus

Post by whitewedding » Wed May 19, 2010 7:28 pm

By developing the satipattana and sammatha simultaneously like you're talking about the satipatthana will detach you from your mind causing an automatic drop into far deeper levels of sammatha. On top of this you will gain mega periphery awareness from satipatthana like I talk about above and the sammatha will cause this awareness to shine.
They're 2 sides of the same coin and should be developed simultaneously (like the Buddha instructed) not as 2 separate techniques (like Buddhism says).

Take care,

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