There are two dimensions to awareness; focused and open. You know about being focused from when you are concentrating on something, writing an article or getting a piece of work done. In mindfulness, we practice Focused Attention by directing and sustaining attention on a selected object such as the breath, detecting distractions and then bringing the attention back to the object, without identifying with the thought.
The other form of awareness is when you might be day dreaming. Open Awareness is wide and allowing and it observes what arises. In mindfulness practice, Open Awareness or Open Monitoring Meditation (OM) has no specific object of attention, rather the awareness concerns an open field, noting all that arises but not settling on anything in particular (Slagter, Dunne and Davidson, 2008). By the way, there is research that says that the non-focused mind is an unhappier mind, though this is more likely to be due to an undercurrent of anxiety that creates ‘danger and problem’ content within the open awareness state.
If we look at this through the lens of feminine and masculine, then the feminine dimension of mindfulness is the open awareness whilst the masculine is the focused awareness. The masculine is directional and goal focused whilst the feminine is receiving, allowing and present.
Both are valid states. The problem arises through the lack of integration; not valuing, living and experiencing both elements.
There is a tendency at the moment in the West to be masculine dominated. This leads to mindfulness easily being seen and sold as a tool to enhance performance, without burning out. This leads to us doing focus training with some down regulation techniques in the service of more clarity and stress reduction so we can ‘do’ our jobs and lives better. There is currently a huge siege on our attention management ability, so it makes sense to start our mindfulness practice there, but there is a loss if it stops there.
One of the costs is that we might miss the point of how crazy the work pressure has become. We miss seeing that being stressed is a symptom that something isn’t working for us, instead we interpret it as ‘I am not coping’. The truth is that most aren’t, so our culture at the moment is in many ways not supporting human thriving. There are many reasons for this, one of them is an overwhelming dominance of ‘drive’ of go, go, go and more, more, more to the detriment of being. A dominance of the masculine over the feminine.
The feminine part of mindfulness offers ‘beingness’, contentedness, presence that is not directed but which is open, wide open and inclusive. From this space, there is nothing to achieve, nothing to get done. We see a new rich world of interconnectedness; we come into allowing this moment to ‘be’ rather than the moment being reduced to a means to an end.
Mindfulness offers a doorway out of our prison of living in only drive mode, relentless doing, achieving, acquiring, purpose, me, me, me focus as well as more, more, more and faster, faster, faster. It offers a new perspective, a perspective of interconnectedness, humility and presence.
“When thoughts arise, instead of regarding them as faults, recognise them to be empty and leave them just as they are.” – Gotsangpa
Meaning and purpose of course sit within the masculine. Take a moment, sit, and invite in a state which is free of meaning, free of purpose. I shared this with a friend the other day, and immediately a calm ‘no pressure’ feeling arose, and we became present.
If you have engaged with much ‘focussed attention mindfulness training’ it might be time to sit in open awareness. You simply sit and rest in awareness observing what arises. Both the Body-Scan and Loving Kindness Mediation are also good as they both integrate focused and open awareness.
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth, and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross