Close Observation

The purpose of a Close Observation meditation is to gain profound insight into the nature of reality. As with the Focussed Awareness meditaton, you start with a focus object - again, the breath is often used.

Example of a simple Close Observation meditation

How to develop your Close Observation meditation

More advanced Close Observation meditations add some additional steps.

One way of understanding these series of steps is to see them as a movement towards doing less top-down processing in the brain. We might imagine than when we experience the breath, what is happening is that various signals (sensations in the body, the sound of the breath) come into our brain and are then processed. In fact, recent neuroscience theorises that what actually happens is that the brain makes predictions about what the sensations and sounds of the breath are like and those predictions are only questioned if there is something obviously wrong with them. This is very efficient but means we navigate the world primarily based on what we think is likely to happening rather than what is actually happening.

The first step above, where the breath is a concept, involves the most top-down processing: we have an existing idea of what the breath is and we are applying it in a habitual way to our current experience of the breath. When you start to notice detail, you are using less of those existing assumptions. Instead of top-down predictions of what you will experience, you are allowing experiences to cascade back up. Once you begin to observe even more closely what the breath is, it becomes far less tangible as a separate "thing". At one point, the breath is some air from outside that you are sucking into your body through your mouth or nostrils. At what point exactly does this become the breath? And at what point when the breath leaves your body does it just become external air again?