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Bare attention – developing your inner ‘bird-watcher’

To practice bare attention means to put down our impulsive, ‘doing’ mindset (‘do this, do that’, ‘should, shouldn’t’, ‘must, mustn’t’) and rest in an observational, detached state of awareness.

Dear Integral Meditators,

Some meditation and mindfulness practices get more complex as we become better at them. Others stay simple, but continue to grow in depth. The practice of bare attention explained below is an example of the latter, a simple practice that stays simple, but grows in depth.

In the spirit of mindful observation,

Bare attention – developing your inner ‘bird-watcher’

Bare attention is a foundational mindfulness practice. Its function is to provide us with a point of stability amidst the constant change and challenges of our daily life. It also provides us with a space within which we can observe what is going on reflectively and non-reactively, which in turn increases our ability to learn from our experiences as they are arise.
To practice bare attention means to put down our impulsive, ‘doing’ mindset (‘do this, do that’, ‘should, shouldn’t’, ‘must, mustn’t’) and rest in an observational, detached state of awareness.
Instead of identifying with what arises, we watch with curiosity in a non-judgmental manner.
When you are practising bare attention you are not so much concerned with whether what is arising is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, rather you are simply concerned with maintaining your position as the observer.
To practice bare attention means to watch what comes up within the field of your awareness without adding or subtracting from it; without repressing and/or denying it, or indulging it or over identifying with it.

Your inner bird-watcher
When I was young and living in the Philippines, my father used to take my brother and I out into the jungle, up mountains and into swamps with his bird-watching friends to, well, spot birds! Most of the time was spent walking quietly and cautiously thought the landscape looking around intently. When we saw signs of bird life or found a good vantage point we would stop and watch for a while, trying as much as possible not to make noise or disturb the birds we were watching. By staying quiet like this we were able to watch the birds behaving naturally, as if we weren’t there. The key of course was not to move suddenly, or make noise, if we did that the birds flew away!

So, practising bare attention is like becoming an ‘inner bird-watcher’. You simply take up your observing position and watch the field of your awareness closely with curiosity, trying not to get involved in what you see or disturb it. Your ‘field of awareness’ consists of your environment and senses, your bodily sensations and emotions, your mind, thoughts and memories. From your position as the ‘inner bird-watcher’ you watch this landscape with detached, non-judgmental attention. That is the essential practice.

If you do this regularly in your formal practice you will start to notice that your ability to maintain this position of bare attention under pressure in your daily life will increase. You will have access to a point of calm and stability even when experiencing strong emotions, physical discomfort, mental anxiety, or challenges from other people or your environment.

© Toby Ouvry 2017, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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