Focused attention, open monitoring, and nondual awareness

Fortunately, there is now general consensus that meditation styles can involve more than one technique. A widely cited classification offered by Lutz and colleagues (2008) referred to some Buddhist meditation types and their Western secular derivatives (i.e. mindfulness) as including both focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM). FA is a method of attentional training in which the meditator practices maintaining focus on a meditative object such as the breath, while OM is a form of non-discriminative awareness in which the meditator allows each experience to arise and dissipate in consciousness without either averting from or over-identifying with any one thought, feeling, or sensation and without maintaining any specific attentional focus. OM is considered the hallmark practice of mindfulness because of its non-reactive attention to present-moment experience. FA practice stabilizes attention and prepares the practitioner for OM, though the two practices are often used together within a single meditation session and over the course of training (Lutz et al. 2008). This definition clarifies matters by recognizing that mindfulness meditation includes both concentrative techniques and more openly receptive forms but does not address the issue of whether FA and OM might be involved in meditation forms that are not derived from Buddhist traditions. Subsequent reviews of the distinction between FA and OM assume that mantra and visualizations are forms of FA (e.g., Braboszcz et al. 2010; Holzel et al. 2011), thus raising the possibility that FA may be entailed in different traditions and techniques. In research and clinical practice, however, meditation that involves breath focus (with or without OM) is usually classified as mindfulness meditation, and meditation that includes alternate FA forms such as mantra and visualization, even if they include breath focus, are referred to as concentrative or “nonmindfulness” types, as though they never lead to OM and mindfulness. Interestingly, the mindfulness component of hatha yoga is recognized in its inclusion in MBSR (Dunn et al. 2013), showing that practices deriving from the Hindu tradition may include mindfulness. Thus, the concentrative versus mindfulness distinction persists in meditation research and the question of whether other forms of meditation besides those deriving from the Buddhist tradition ever involve mindfulness practices or states is inadequately addressed.

Criticism of the FA/OM taxonomy has stressed the imperative to incorporate an understanding of mental state changes as a factor in the conceptualization of meditation. Travis and Shear, for example, have proposed a third category in addition to FA and OM: automatic self-transcending meditation (Travis and Shear 2010a). By grouping meditation forms in terms of the cortical electrical activity most notably associated with each one, Travis and Shear noted that TM differentiated from other meditation forms they categorized as FA (lovingkindness meditation, qigong, and Zen) or OM (vipassana, sahaja yoga, qigong, and Zen) by exhibiting patterns of alpha-1 activity that were not observed in the other types. The authors inferred that TM was a form of meditation with techniques that, unlike FA and OM, are designed to transcend their own activity in an effortless way. In support of this conjecture, the authors cited an earlier study (Travis and Pearson 2000) in which phenomenological analysis of TM selfreports noted prominent themes of attenuated spatial and time awareness that were consistent with the authors’ conceptualization of pure consciousness, distinct from phenomenological descriptions of FA and OM. This and other work have begun to address nondual awareness (NDA), a meditative state in which a critical distinction is lost or greatly attenuated: The distinction between the meditator as subject observing the contents or object(s) of awareness. NDA is distinct from FA and OM states that maintain the dualism of subject versus object (Dunne 2011; Josipovic 2010; Travis and Shear 2010b). Despite the fact that Lutz and colleagues defined FA and OM as hallmarks of mindfulness meditation, Dunne (2011) asserted, without any evidence or illustration, that MBSR involves NDA, which may make it similar to TM and other types of meditation that are thought to produce NDA. Although the TM tradition regards the NDA state as attained effortlessly (Travis and Shear 2010a), as reviewed below, traditional sources regard NDA as an advanced state of meditation, so it is unclear whether and how states of NDA are involved in MMBI.

 
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