In this article, we will look at open-awareness meditation VS focused attention meditation, and explain what the difference is.
When it’s all said and done, there are only three mind-states used when focusing in meditation: Focused attention, open awareness, and effortless presence. Let’s look at the differences.
Focused Attention, Open Awareness, And Effortless Presence Meditations
The three fundamental types of meditation are:
- Focused attention meditation
- Open awareness meditation
- Effortless presence meditation
As you will know if you follow our newsletter, there are very many different ways to meditate, but the two main ways are open-awareness and focused attention, so what is the difference between these two? And there is also effortless presence.
But wait. There is one more type of focus: Multitasking. I personally used to multitask all the time. I would be at work, and while I was on the phone, I would be reading a book and eating at the same time. That’s the very definition of mindlessness. And there are lots of adverse effects of multitasking on the brain, which I’ll discuss below.
Focused Attention VS Effortless Presence VS Open Awareness
The three different states of mind used in meditation are:
- Focused Attention
- Open Awareness
- and Effortless Presence.
These three are ideal and healthy states of mind that are used in meditation, but they can also be used in everyday life. They each have different benefits and different effects on the brain 
Let’s take a look at them.
Focused Attention Meditation
Focused attention meditations are techniques in which we focus on one thing at a time (the most classic example of focused attention is Samatha technique, in which we focus on one object).
Focused attention is the complete opposite of multitasking. It is very intentionally focusing on only one thing at a time. This method will massively improve your focus.
Examples of focused-attention meditations include:
- Breath-based techniques
- Sound methods
- Candle meditation
As you can see from these examples, focused attention meditation is about concentrating on one thing at a time.
Benefits of focused attention meditation
When you use focused attention meditation, you are training your mind to focus on one thing at a time. So, the immediate and apparent benefit of this is that it improves your concentration.
However, because you are forcing your mind to focus on one thing, you are also letting go of everything else.
Focusing 100% of your mind on your breath means not focusing on anything else. In other words, you let go of your thoughts, feelings, mental imagery, and so on. And this creates very many secondary benefits.
Focused Attention Meditation Benefits :
- Make us more productive at work.
- Helps us overcome negative thoughts.
- Help us to tune-out background noise
- Help us stop multitasking
- Increases harmony between brain hemispheres
- Makes us more able to enjoy life
- Relieves stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Prevents and relieves depression.
- Leads to fewer mistakes
- Improves clarity of thought
- Increases present-moment-mindfulness
- Improves efficiency
- Makes us more aware of our abilities.
Doing one thing at a time, or focusing on one thing, is massively beneficial.
As you can see, the majority of ways in which focused attention helps is that it removes unnecessary information from your mind and improves focus. And because these are fundamental mental competencies, they help with very many other tasks and processes.
Open Awareness Meditation
So how about focused attention VS open awareness. What’s the difference?
Open monitoring meditations, which are also called “open awareness”, are the opposite of focused attention. Open awareness activities are about opening your mind to the entirety of the environment.
In open monitoring exercises, you let the entire world in, without focusing on any one specific thing and without being judgmental of anything. You simply allow the whole environment into your mind with complete acceptance.
To give you an example of an open awareness exercise
- step outside
- turn your head up to the sky
- simply observe everything.
- silence your mind and let the whole world in.
Examples of Open-Awareness Meditations:
Osho Dynamic Meditation
Tara Brach has some great open-awareness meditations on her site.
Open Awareness Meditation Benefits
The main advantage of open awareness is that it makes you more creative .
Unlike in focused attention, in open awareness activities, you are letting the whole world in. That puts a lot of information in your mind. And because you are very relaxed, that information is able to flow more freely. Because of the nature of the brain, when new chunks of information come into contact, associations are formed. You see a round object next to a box, and you suddenly realise that those two things together make a car.
When you practice open monitoring technique, you increase your creativity. This is the primary benefit of open awareness.
There are many secondary benefits too. For instance, your body relaxes, tension releases, and this creates many physical and mental health benefits. Plus, in my personal experience, open awareness simply feels incredibly liberating.
Effortless presence comes from Yoga.
If you have ever done yoga, your teacher probably told you, at the end of the session, to lie down in corpse pose (Savasana), let go, and exist without effort. That is effortless presence meditation.
Effortless presence meditation is about pure acceptance and relaxation. This technique enables you to relax completely. It is very similar to open awareness, and the benefits are the same. Though you could argue that because effortless presence requires zero effort, it is even more relaxing and even more liberating.
Open awareness, focused attention, and effortless presence, offer three psychological definitions for all the different meditation types.
Which of these types have you tried? And what are your experiences with them?
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1: Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity – A review, Frontiers in Psychology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171985/
2: Can 10 Minutes of Meditation Make You More Creative? by Emma Schootstra , Dirk Deichmann and Evgenia Dolgova, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/can-10-minutes-of-meditation-make-you-more-creative