The Attention & Awareness Game

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This is a simple game I’m working on to demonstrate how attention and awareness work in meditation, as explained in the book The Mind Illuminated. This game probably best represents Stage 4 in the book (trying to overcome gross distractions with continuous introspective awareness).

If you’re not familiar with the distinction between attention and awareness already, this blog post gives a short introduction.

The small circle in the middle represents your attention – you can move this around with your arrow keys.

The aim of the game is to direct attention to avoid getting distracted (touching the distractions moving around the screen).

The bigger circle around that is your awareness – you can expand this with your space bar.

Distractions are only visible when they’re inside the circle of awareness – so you need to expand awareness enough so that you can anticipate distractions and avoid them.

However, if you spend too much energy expanding awareness, the clarity of your attention will suffer.

Have fun!

I hope to continue to improve this game – what could I change or add to demonstrate the difference between attention and and awareness more effectively?
Please leave any feedback in the comments.

Author: RationalShinkai

Ollie lives in England. He likes meditation, peanut butter, and Oxford commas.

2 thoughts on “The Attention & Awareness Game”

  1. Hi,
    I like the game idea but, for me, the problem has been trying to understand how you can be aware of a distracting verbal thought without actually thinking it. In other words, don’t you have to think the verbal thought in order to be aware of it, and if you are thinking it, isn’t it already a distraction? I guess Culadasa’s answer is that it is only a distraction if it draws your mind away from your object of attention; e.g. the breath, so that the thought becomes the new object of attention. But if that is true, what does it mean to expand your circle of awareness in the case of verbal thoughts? I admire and respect your imaginative approach to meditation and would appreciate clarification on this point if you feel like writing. Thanks!

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for the great question.

      So there are a couple of distinctions that it’s important to understand when talking about this stuff and it can get a little nuanced.

      The first difference to understand is between distractions that capture attention and mental objects which are merely in awareness. You indicated this yourself – something is only a distraction if it becomes an object of attention. Right now you have a lot of objects in your awareness – like the visual objects behind your screen – that probably aren’t acting as distractions – which is to say that they aren’t capturing your attention as you read this.

      The other thing to take into account is that distractions exist on a scale – with complete mind-wandering at one end and perfect concentration on the other. There can be distractions which completely capture your attention – very gross distractions – and distractions which cause only the briefest flicker of attention away from your meditation object – very subtle distractions.

      Now if you’ve had a verbal thought, that does indicate the fact that attention has been involved, so it does qualify as a distraction, but verbal thoughts come so easily and rapidly to us that the mere presence of a verbal thought is a fairly blunt tool with which to divide up that scale. What I mean is that you can go pretty far down that scale (even down to stage 6) and still experience brief glimmers of subtle verbal thoughts. (If you’ve constructed an entire fantasy story, on the other hand, you can be pretty darn certain that you were on the mind wandering end.) So a verbal thought can be gross or subtle. When it’s subtle, it might occupy attention for the briefest moment, but if your awareness is good enough, your mind will correct for that almost immediately, return to the meditation object, and the thought won’t continue. Whereas if you didn’t have good awareness, the thought would become a much more gross distraction – meaning that it would occupy attention more completely for a longer period of time, possibly turning into a stream of some more thoughts, and with an increased potential for mind-wandering.

      An analogy I’d give for being aware of a thought while it’s still only a subtle distraction is sort of like working at your computer and really being in flow, and somebody you live with passes by behind your screen. You know they’re there, and you know who it is, but it’s not like you feel any pressure to stop and chat, so you stay pretty much entirely focused on your work, and virtually forget that they passed by as soon as they’re gone.

      So with all that out of the way, to answer the meat of your question directly. This isn’t indicated very well by the game, but some objects – mostly mental objects like thoughts – pretty much disappear when you are sufficiently aware of them so as not to pay them any attention. A thought simply must have continued attention to keep going, because thoughts are so conceptual. Whereas other types of distractions – things like knee pain or the sound of a thunderstorm – are likely to continue in awareness even if you are not paying any attention to them at all.

      Hope that makes things clearer?

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