Bare Attention

Bare Attention / Bare Noticing

The full rounded path of meditation begins with mindfulness meditation, proceeds to developing insight (vipassana) and ends in enlightenment.

The task of the first phase is to gain in mindfulness. As we develop mindfulness we break apart our habits of mind. Our natural tendency is to find shortcuts to living – create simple habits that can make life easier. We’ve clumped together raw sensory data into have cognitive patterns or abstractions.

For example, if I say I’m anxious it’s shorthand pointing to sensory experiences of racing heart, butterflies in my stomach, shortened breathing, internal shaking, negative thoughts….

Any time I have a couple of these sensory data points I don’t take the time to really experience them. I glance off of the experience and move toward some kind of conclusion. Oh, I say, I’m anxious.

Well, what if I were to slow all that down and really sit with it? There are a couple possibilities. I might find that taking my attention and focus it on one of the larger grouping (say, I focus on my rapid breathing) and withdraw my attention
from the whole cluster I might find my breathing slowing.

The outcome is actually not the point! although it does help when we are anxious to know we can have some control over our experience. The point is that we can focus our attention on one thing and one thing only.

In doing that we “de-habituate” the habit. We uncouple the experience with the habit of mind. We experience the “bare” fact of experience, seeing, feeling, being with the experience as if for the first time — not experiencing it through the many filters we have put on experience.

The basic facts of our experience are noticed as faced as bare facts of perception arising from any of the five senses or in our mind which in Buddhism is considered a sixth sense.

With bare attention we attend to each sense impression, noticing what arises without reacting to it. This can be very hard for anyone suffering from PTSD – but it is a powerful important tool and skill to cultivate.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re overwhelmed by ptsd symptoms. Doesn’t even have to be that anyone did anything – you just got triggered. Usually when that happens most people will blend with the experience – and become the experience.

The Irish have a beautiful way of saying, depression is on me. Well, the experience most of us have is that “I am depressed.” If you think of it as depression is on me you’re going to have a bit more room to explore it. You’ll be able to witness it – rather than being in it.

Okay, let’s get back to the trigger. The beauty of bare noticing is that you notice with bare attention what is happening. You witness the experience, setting aside the reaction.

Yes, I know it’s hard to do when you are in the middle of a trigger. That’s why we practice it!!! Sometimes it means practicing a thousand times a day, but as you do, I will guarantee this! you will be able to turn your attention to the trigger without becoming the trigger.

I do keep digressing. I hear all the “yes… but…..” comments people have said over the years.

The event happens and there’s a corresponding experience in your body. With depression it might be a weight in your chest (plus other sensations, thoughts, feelings.) With anxiety it might be shortened breathing.

Whatever it is, bring your attention just to that one sensory experience. When the other thoughts, feelings, body sensations pull on you, turn your attention back to this one sensory data point.


One trick with this is to “note” what is happening in as short and concise way as possible, eliminating embellishments. “Breathing…… breathing……. breathing…”

In this example, it’s not “shortened breathing…… shortened breathing….” Notice what happens in your own mind as you say “shortened breathing…..” Can you feel the additional embellishment?

The bare noticing of “breathing….. breathing….. breathing…..” creates a focus for the mind and keeps revectoring the mind to it’s task and away from all the other arising thoughts and feelings pulling us away.


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3 Responses to “Bare Attention”

  1. I love the idea of taking buddhist principles and extending them to include community. A Kindness Community is a lovely thought.We are so wired as human beings to needing community, not to be solitary. Meditation is so important to understand the things in ourselves that derail us from day to day. But Community is where the rubber meets the road. its what we were built for. Of the last few years, i have been trying to come to terms with the communal aspects of Western Christian mysticism and eastern thoughts of loving kindness to all, of metta, of self love. My tradition is rooted in the West and this just makes sense. But i cannot deny that this idea of kindness as a root motivation in all my action resonates with me. it has made all the difference in my life.I totally love this idea a non-dogmatic way to extend self love to others. That i radical love, revolutionary, you might even say.

    • Beautiful comment. I agree that community is where the rubber meets the road. It’s certainly a place of great practice, of putting love into action.


  2. This is such a fundamental practice in all spiritual traditions.

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