Attentional Scales

This practice is rooted in the faith that our consciousness is served by developing diversity and flexibility in our attentional skills. Consciousness is sharp focus of attention; it also is a broad awareness. Just as a musician might practice both scales and chords, so might a practitioner practice narrow and broad focus.

Close your eyes. Bring focused attention to your breath: focus on the in-breath; focus on the out-breath. If other thoughts arise, notice them, and return your attention to your breath.

Then, while remaining aware of your breath, notice also your entire body. Refrain from doing a specific inventory of body parts; rather, bring your awareness to a holistic awareness of your entire physical being.

Next, while remaining aware of your breath and your body, expand your awareness to your immediate surroundings: the floor, the chair, the walls around you, any other beings that are nearby. Retain this simultaneous awareness of breath, body, and surroundings for a while. Try not to switch among them, but instead be aware of all three at once.

Next, while retaining that awareness, expand your awareness to include the next circle of proximity, perhaps your house or office, perhaps the nature around you, perhaps your neighborhood. Be aware of the beings, human and otherwise, that occupy this larger space, all the while retaining your awareness of breath, body, and surroundings.

Continue this process, patiently, as your circle of awareness broadens ever outward. Perhaps your awareness will come to embrace all of humanity, or all beings, or the planet itself. Or beyond, embracing our star, our solar system, our galaxy, or even the entire universe. It's entirely possible you may be able to expand your awareness beyond the universe, to the existence out of which universes arise.

Then, just like the musician who has played a scale from the bottom to the top, reverse course and, in stages, bring your awareness to ever more discrete realms, until your attention once again is on your breath and your breath alone.

This exercise can be done over an extended period of time or just a few minutes. Experiment – see if it can be both a morning practice and a middle-of-the-day practice, just as a musician might run scales for an hour or as a break from his/her workday.