The words attention, perception, and awareness are often used interchangeably in spiritual vocabulary. In fact, they are quite different. Very simplistically, attention is where we focus, perception is what we see, and awareness is what we are.
Attention is an overall state of mind that determines how we relate to, engage with, and experience life. It is shaped in large part by where we place our focus, whether deliberately or randomly. There are two forms: ordinary attention and inner attention.
Ordinary attention is in the realm of conscious being, feeling, and thinking; it’s how we observe, process, and react to content throughout the day. If the mind is undisciplined, it will indiscriminately jump from thought to thought. Because the state of the world is frequently chaotic and reflects a great deal of negativity, the result of an undisciplined mind is often lower emotional states and distraction – a heavy, dark, or depressed state of mind. However, if the mind is disciplined, strong, and deliberate, it can be directed in a very precise manner. We can choose to focus on happiness, beauty, and brightness, which produce a very beautiful and optimistic state of mind. It takes effort to train the mind to concentrate rather than jump around, space-out, or indulge in lower mind states, but it’s worth it. A focused mind with laser-like thought is both extremely efficient and very potent, because focused thoughts bring energy into form. As the Buddha said, “with our thoughts we make the world.” Check in with yourself: are your thoughts congruent with the experience of life you’d like to have?
The second type of attention is inner attention, also called the “second attention” by don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Indian shaman. It’s the attention of your energy body, and it is guided by intent. In contrast to daily thoughts and impressions in the mind, inner attention moves in energy currents and is directed by what you truly want and intend. It works on your behalf all of the time to manifest realities on the physical plane and access energetic worlds that the mind can’t even imagine. Inner attention is so powerful that it will always trump the mind. For example, if you practice positive thinking, but your intent is really self-sabotage, the outcome you experience will always be the sabotage. Like cultivating a focused mind, inner attention develops over time with practice. The more non-physical energy you have, the greater your capacity to leverage inner attention.
What you focus on, you become. It’s powerful to constantly direct attention, both ordinary attention and inner attention, toward that which you want the most. If you want to wake up spiritually, direct all of your attention to Light.
Perception is how we see the universe. It is the aperture each of us has for viewing all that is. Like attention, there are also two types of perception: ordinary and extraordinary.
Ordinary perception is usually governed by social convention and human agreements. It’s a view of the mundane world. It is shaped by how we are socialized and the agreements we make about how the world works.
There is also extraordinary perception, the ability to see beyond what meets the eye. Extraordinary perception is to see the unseen, the uncommon, the magical universe. It is to see without your human eyes, between and through the worlds. This type of perception is experienced as patterns and cycles of energy, and the more developed your seeing is, combined with your level of personal energy and experience, the broader the range of extraordinary vision you will have.
Ordinary and extraordinary perceptual fields available to each person are strongly impacted by what is believed; perception expands or contracts based on what is assumed to be possible or true. For example, if you don’t believe the world is beautiful, you won’t see the beauty all around you. And if you can’t fathom some aspect of the universe or the nature of Reality, you simply won’t see it.
Perception is infinite. It’s possible to spend forever exploring every corner of the universe, between the worlds, and beyond the worlds. Perception is also limited. The most expansive perception is still an aperture, albeit a very open view. Even the “enlightened” point of view is a vision based on particular ideas of Oneness, the Self, and Light.
Awareness is pure consciousness. It is ever present, unchanging, intelligent Light. Perfect awareness is what you are; it’s your true nature. However, most people are not in touch with the perfection of their awareness. This is because the experience of awareness is determined by the level of awakening in each person.
Pure awareness is not a state. States of awareness are really viewpoints of awareness, or the perception of awareness, not awareness itself. Pure awareness is absolute consciousness. It is Reality, beyond all perception. The split second before perception, before any idea, before cause and effect, without any aperture of any kind, is unmodified Reality. In other words, not even the perception of perfect Light is a true seeing of Reality. Reality exists outside of all attempts to know or see it, before it can be named or qualified, even by “enlightened” frames of reference.
Attention, perception, and states of awareness are all partialities. They may point to pure awareness, and they may provide experiences of awareness, but they are not the clear, full, and direct beingness of consciousness. The focus of attention influences perception, and the range of perception influences the states of awareness that may be seen and experienced. Ultimately, all of these fall away into the direct experience of Reality before attention or perception create any view of consciousness at all.
© 2016 Mu. Mu is the author of two books about the direct path of awakening. Walking the Advanced Path, a clear guide for how to navigate the pathway to enlightenment with responsibility, awareness, and grace, is available at Amazon.com and internationally at Amazon UK, CA, FR and DE. Advanced Path is a collection of lyrical verses about the journey to liberation, available at Amazon.com, and internationally at Amazon CA, UK, FR and DE.