Attention and Buddhism Take 2

November 27, 2011

Last week I posted on the topic of Buddhism and attention. This post is a continuation of that theme.

According to Wallace (2006), the ten stages of attentional development are: directed attention, continuous attention, resurgent attention, close attention, tamed attention, pacified attention, fully pacified attention, single-pointed attention, attentional balance, and shamatha.

Directed attention “is simply being able to place your mind on your chosen object of meditation for even a second or two” (p. 13). Continuous attentions mean “that now and again you can remain centered for a sustained period without completely losing track of your object of attention” (p. 30). Resurgent attention means “that most of the time you remain engaged with the object [of attention]” and “there are still lapses when you completely forget the object, but you quickly recognize them and patch up the holes in the continuity of attention” (p. 43). Close attention is when one’s attention has “acquired a kind of gravity such that it can’t be easily buffeted by gusts of involuntary thoughts and sensory distractions” (p. 59). This stage of attention is an initial form of mindfulness. Tamed attention is where “involuntary thoughts continue to arise, but instead of their tumultuous outpouring like a cascading waterfall, they now flow like a river moving smoothly through a gorge” (p. 78). Pacified attention exists when

involuntary thoughts pass through your consciousness like a river slowly flowing through a valley. As the mind becomes more at ease, thoughts flicker like butterflies through the space of awareness, and you are able to passively witness the entire sequence of thoughts arising, playing themselves out, then vanishing. (p. 100)

Fully pacified attention is the state wherein

involuntary thoughts continue to course through the mind like a river slowly flowing through a valley, but as your mind settles more and more deeply in its natural state, there is nothing for them to attach to. In the absence of grasping, you are not attached to them, and they have no power in themselves to afflict you. (p. 117)

Single-pointed attention is where one realizes a “high degree of unification of attention: wherever you direct it, your awareness is coherent and highly focused;” whereas in preceding stages “involuntary thoughts arose like a river slowly flowing through a valley, now the mind feels calm, like an ocean unmoved by waves” (p. 132). Attentional balance exists when one’s attention is highly focused “effortlessly and continuously for at least four hours” (p. 143).

The final stage is shamatha. The previous stages “entail many incremental changes, but the actual accomplishment of shamatha involves a radical transition in your body and mind” where “this shift is characterized by specific experiences that take place within a discrete, relatively brief period of time” (p. 156). The first sign of the experience is “heaviness and numbness on the top of the head” (p. 156) like a palm has been placed on your head. It does not hurt and it is not harmful. You experience “mental pliancy, in which your mind is fit and supple like never before” (p. 56) where you are free of mental dysfunction [and] you can focus your mind without resistance on any meaningful object or task” (p. 156). You also experience “the movement of vital energies moving in your body” as if “you are filled with the power of this dynamic energy” (p. 156). You are now free of physical dysfunction where “your body feels buoyant and light like never before” (p. 156). The bliss associated with this physical and mental freedom eventually subsides and a state of equanimity occurs.

Imagine leaders who have achieved later stages of attentional development! I think some interesting possibilities can emerge as a result.  Next week I’ll start to explore the topic of sustainable business as I continue on this thread about attention, leadership and sustainable business. Stay tune as I continue to explore this passion of mine…

Wallace, B. A. (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

(To comment, click on the title of this post above. The comment box will then appear below.)


4 Responses to “Attention and Buddhism Take 2”

  1. Bernice Moore-Valdez on November 28th, 2011 5:03 pm

    Thank you for writing up such a thorough description of stages of attention in meditation.

    How do you translate the stages to business leaders? It seems like a challenging prospect to me, and I wonder how you help people be attentive to the qualities of their own awareness in rapid-paced business settings.

    Thank you very much. I appreciate your thoughts.


  2. ATCLisa on November 29th, 2011 4:42 pm


    Thank you for commenting on my posts. I do not teach shamatha. In reading and writing about it, I have come to admire it greatly. I teach a form of attention cultivation that is more suited to a business person. It is not meditation based, but does contain some esoteric teachings. My clients are business people who are interested in sustainability personally and/or professionally.

  3. MarcyT on December 8th, 2011 4:29 pm

    Thank you for providing such a great description of the various stages of attentional development in Buddhism. I now understand that cultivating attention is a gradual process with small gains made at each successive step. I can see how the next level of attention becomes more attainable once you’ve mastered the current level.

  4. ATCLisa on December 11th, 2011 11:21 am

    Thank you for your comment, Marcy. Cultivation of attention is a gradual process, and the rewards are many.

Got something to say?

What is Attention?

Attention is a specialized subtle energy of your awareness. Paying attention to your attention is the first step to understanding it. Continue...

Attention Traps

Our attention is a gift that changes those who receive it. The quality of this gift is often diminished by the unconscious ways we pay attention—these are attention traps. Continue...

Attention is a Precious Resource

What you choose to pay attention to matters, because you only have so much. What will you do with your precious, limited resource?