Open Focus & Space (1)

While you're reading this, what are you noticing? Just the words on the screen? How about your legs, and your arms, and what the person next to you is doing? What about the sounds coming from the kitchen, or the road outside? Or the feeling of your feet on the floor?

You might feel that there's no way you can notice all of that at once. You can only pay attention to one thing at a time, after all. But we also all know about something called awareness. Awareness is a bit different, you can be aware of lots of things, all at the same time. For example if you're on the beach soaking up the rays, can't you at the same time be aware of the noise of the people around you, of the gulls, the waves, the feeling of the sand, and the salt smell? 

This is another one of those amazing things sitting right under our noses which many of us never notice. If you think about it, no matter what you're doing at any time of day, there will be an infinite number of simultaneous things happening, both within you and outside of you. We often restrict ourselves to noticing just one thing out of this infinite cornucopia. Mostly because we think that's all we can do. But we forget awareness. You can be focused on just one thing, but at the same time allow this infinite cornucopia to enter your awareness, first just a piece at a time as we practice this, and then increasingly more and more elements. It is actually quite possible to be aware of everything on that list at the start of this post, and more. 

Various traditions have discovered this. A modern variant is called Open Focus, which means exactly what it says - having a focus that is completely open:

...a way of broadening your awareness until you are simultaneously conscious of your whole body,  all your senses and the space surrounding you.

The work that John Kabat Zinn does in mindfulness, which is now used extensively in medicine and psychology, has pretty much the same message. One emphasis in the Open Focus work though which is particularly valuable is the perception of space. We usually consciously perceive objects or more broadly things, but not space. Deliberately becoming aware of space has a very powerful effect - for example what if you right now become aware of the space between your head and your torso? Or the space surrounding your torso, or the space within your torso between your heart and your spine? Or the space between your eyes and the screen you're reading?

This is where it all jumps to another level of interesting. Because the direct experience of doing this makes you gradually notice that while you may have been functioning with the idea that everything, including you and the objects around you, live "in" space, our direct experience until we try this is something quite different. Generally space is left out, we shrink right up into our heads and the world becomes this very flat thing, as if we were looking at a painting. We're directly aware only of the objects, and not the space between them and us. Or we observe our own bodies, and do the same - the actual space between different parts of ourselves is not directly experienced. 

In fact it's that notion of being 'in' space that's at fault here. It assumes space is a sort of framework that things sit inside. So the objects and the space are separate. This is why you inevitably end up feeling and directly experiencing 'me' as something outside of space. If you drop the idea and experience of space as being this homogeneous framework, you begin to experience all of the many distances around you and within you directly, as organic living realities. You move from space as a single, abstract grid that isn't actually experienced, to spaceS as an infinite variety of distances that you experience directly. 

For example you've probably noticed how many people slouch or slump when they sit. You may do it yourself. It's not difficult to see why this is - because people have shrunk their experience up into their heads and are directly ignoring all of the distances and spaces between the different parts of their body, the rest of them collapses like a concertina or accordion. They're not experiencing any of those different spaces, or more accurately they're not actually living them. They've reduced their whole organism to a head, a point in space perched on top of a dimensionless bag of bones beneath them. Once they actually start to live those spaces, to directly experience them, their entire system expands immediately, like inflating a washing up glove. They don't need to do anything - 'doing' is the old model of them being a point up in their head trying to control things. This effortless and complete expansion is nothing more than them becoming the fully embodied being that they are, experiencing directly their extension, which just is, because the world is extended. Including us. 

I'll write more about this.


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