Awareness and Attention: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Distinction Between Awareness and Attention

Awareness and attention are integral yet distinct faculties we engage in daily. However, the difference between these two capacities is often blurred. Clarifying the distinction allows us to utilize both more consciously and balanced.

Awareness is the background radar of consciousness, impartially noticing whatever thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise. It is open, vast, and all-encompassing. Attention is the focused beam we direct, concentrating intently on one object, activity, or train of thought. It zooms in selectively.

While awareness takes in the whole, attention zooms into specifics. Awareness never wavers, while attention fluctuates. Awareness observes without judgment, while attention assesses and evaluates. We can enhance our mental acuity and inner clarity by honing these two capacities.

Cultivating Awareness Allows Attention to Relax

  • Awareness is continuously operating whether we cognize it or not. Developing awareness helps detach from identification with mental content.
  • Attention strained too tightly for too long becomes overwrought and exhausted. Awareness balances and soothes this overfocus.
  • The more we rest in open awareness, the more focused attention can operate optimally when needed.
awareness and attention

“Awareness is for most people a flickering light between two banks of dense fog.” – Alan Watts

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  • Notice how awareness allows you to step back and witness thoughts and emotions rather than be immersed in them.
  • When concentrating, be aware of attention’s focal point without straining. Periodically relax it by resting in open awareness.
  • Task focus narrows awareness; when switching tasks, pause to refresh awareness of the whole before redirecting attention.

Skillfully balancing awareness and attention cultivates mental acuity and inner clarity amidst the swirling currents of life. Allow awareness to observe while attention engages whatever is before you impartially.

1 thought on “Awareness and Attention: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Thanks for the distinction. I sometimes use them interchangeably when instructing moving meditations of Qigong. However, I think I may in most instances be adhering to the distinctions made by Watts. Not sure tho’…
    “Sink your awareness into your body like a sponge into water.”
    “Focus your attention on the lower Dan Tian and the qi will follow. Wherever the mind goes the qi flows.”


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