Meditation instructions generally reiterate focusing ones attention on the sensations of breath but attention can mean several things. It can mean placing attention on what you feel but what about what you see? What I notice a lot is, what I can only describe as my "inner eye", wants to see or visualise something so it generally sees various images either from the past or fantasises about the future etc which is very distracting. Where am I meant to place this eye? I don't know how to just not see anything. I can place my attention on the sensations of my abdomen rising and falling but that is a felt sense not a visual sense. I have not come across any instruction about this. Do I place the visual sense on the abdomen? Or do I visualise an object or Buddha etc?
What you see, in this case, are visual thoughts- they're the same as verbal thoughts. They arise due to untraceable prior causes that are outside of your control, and they can't really be stopped. Mental and verbal thoughts are both "sankhara", conditioned formations. We are all VERY strongly conditioned in our lives to grasp on to these formations, to "believe" them, and turn them in to ideas and visions and further thoughts.
When you focus on your breath (or any other meditation object), you're focusing on something real- something you "feel", like you said- but, unlike thoughts and visions, it's something that doesn't feed more grasping.
Each time your attention goes to your object, you slowly loosen the grip that these conditioned formations have on your attention.
So there's no need to place the attention of the "inner eye" anywhere. Acknowledge and accept that these visual images arise, then put them aside.
Later on, you'll start to see how visual and verbal thoughts are both the product of the same movements of the mind. These movements mean nothing in themselves- they're just disturbances, like swirls of milk in a stirred-up cup of coffee- but our storehouse of memories and perceptions fill those swirls with powerful symbolism and apparent meaning.
As for visual awareness, you don't place it anywhere. The way I was instructed, we don't close eyes, we relax them (="soft eyes") and let them wander. If we get sleepy, then we should actively re-engage visual awareness with the room around us, but normally we let the eyes wander and disengage. Most of the attention should be on the breathing - not necessarily abdomen, rather on all muscles involved with breathing, from chest to solar plexus to lowest part of abdomen. The point is to watch the blockages in breathing until you become very familiar with detailed sensations of breathing so much that you start "seeing through breathing". Again, this is how I was instructed, every school is different. When you really concentrate on watching your breathing, the visual images do not appear - but it is absolutely normal and typical for meditators of all experience levels to be attacked by them at random points - I see it as an inevitable sideeffect of going deeper into subconscious, one of those things that are so common that at some point one stops getting frustrated with them and accepts them as part of the deal.
I personally do not recommend visualizing Buddhas or any other objects. I never had success with that type of meditation, so no positive experience.
Seeing consciousness is seeing consciousness. The content of what you see, think, feel, desire, isn't very important to mindfulness insight practice. What's important is what arises in your personal experiential world so there is no outside seeing, it's all in your mind.
If you thought "hey that image is in my mind" or "hey, this image is coming from the outside physical world" those would be thoughts, not sights. The sight outside or inside is just a sight. A sight is just what it is "a pattern of colors" and the "seeming like it's coming from outside your mind" is the experience called "seeming". Two different things, see? We are after precise truth of whatever aspect of experience we are focusing on as it arises and that always happens in the present moment.
We see these experiences as they are, so words never can really capture what we are referring to, the raw stuff of our experience is what we are referring to when we say "it is what it is". -Metta :)
For ānāpanassati-meditation: don't care the others, even temperature at nose tip. Just focus only breath at nose tip. Even the others come to your senses or your mind, ignore them all. Just focus on only this:
- "When he breathing in long, he contemplates 'I breathing in long'; Or when he breathing out long, he contemplates 'I breathing out long'.
- When he breathing in short, he contemplates 'I breathing in short'; Or when he breathing out short, he contemplates 'I breathing out short'.
- He trains himself 'I am breathing in and sensitively contemplating the entire breath in'. Or he trains himself 'I am breathing out and sensitively contemplating the entire breath out'.
- He trains himself 'I am breathing gentle breath in'. Or he trains himself 'I am breathing gentle breath in'.
Nimitta always appears to every practitioner, however don't care of nimitta. Just keep focus on breath.
Target of concentration meditation is diverting the attention from unwholesome consciousness's object to wholesome consciousness's object, by ignore the other objects and focus just one.
I have practiced mindfulness meditation for 50 years. I have even written a book on the practice. The purpose of focusing on the breath is to achieve an objective state of mind so that the deeper mind gets a chance to form important and personal insights.
I always meditate with eyes closed. I am a very visual thinker so it's just natural for me to see lots of things happening in my mind.
I seem to have a place in my mind from which images stream or bubble, like water from a spring or like the bubbles from an air pump in an aquarium. If I concentrate (focus) on that then it forms into an image, or a dream-fragment. A way to semi-hide that is to open my eyes: the light seems to hide or wash out or fade the inner image. Some traditions recommend that you meditate with your eyes open, for example Wall Gazing in Soto Zen,
In short, I'd say it's easier to ensure you don't get distracted with your thoughts.
There's a similar tendency of the mind to bubble out words (internal or silent words): replaying old conversation, practicing new conversation, singing bits of song, etc.
There are different senses (sight, sound, etc.) and Buddhism might talk of different consciousnesses for the different senses (e.g. "eye-consciousness", etc.). I view it as there being different sense-bodies or realms: e.g. there's an "eye-body of eye-consciousness", etc. Eye and ear are two of the most dominant or most popular senses, in "modern society": when people go to school, they're taught to read and write, figure out equations, and look at pictures; and to talk, and listen, and play music, and so on. The sense of touch is somewhat deprecated, unused, untaught. Words like haptic and proprioception exist but they're not everyday vocabulary. Nevertheless I think there's a "body" of sensory nerves and touch-consciousness, like there's a eye-body and a word-body (or "logic-body").
In the question Awareness of two things I quoted an experiment which I think shows that awareness or attention can move very quickly -- several times per second -- from one thing (or rather, one focus) to another. I find that when I try to concentrate on breathing, that's not engaging or interesting enough and my mind wanders ... maybe it wanders several times per second. Maybe it wanders to that place which is bubbling proto-images ... and easily gets caught there, swept up into a developing image.
So (apart from opening your eyes so that light, the external eye, drowns out the internal images), another way to avoid this problem might be to try to set your default focus, your resting attention, on your feeling-body -- i.e. on your sense of touch, your haptic/proprioception body -- instead of on your (usual/default) eye-consciousness. Be aware that there is a body, to start with -- limbs, back, head balanced on top, gravity, heart, etc. Be aware of breathing and, in the instants when you're not aware of breathing, whenever there's not enough breathing to catch your attention, or not enough change of breathing (I think senses/consciousness is more sensitive to whatever is changing than to whatever is staying the same) then revert back to being aware of the body (rather than e.g. aware of internal images or internal monologue).
Traditional advice (about setting your attention on your body) is to set your attention at your nose. I beware of contradicting that advice, but maybe the nose is too close to the head, so it's easy to get lost in thought. Maybe instead you could put that attention on your abdomen, for example, instead of your nose: e.g. on the lower dantian.
I can place my attention on the sensations of my abdomen rising and falling but that is a felt sense not a visual sense.
I find I pay attention to one thing at a time: for example if a passenger is talking to me then I might have momentary lapses of attention when driving a car -- or that I can switch between two or more things, but just a few things "simultaneously" are enough to fill my attention. I find there are a lot of sensations in the feeling-body: not only breathing but heart beating, balancing gravity, etc. -- i.e. "reality" -- maybe enough stimulation to displace "imagination".
I wonder if the tendency to "want" to imagine things, the habit, might be related to craving (tanha), or asava, or "sensual desire" or "craving for rebirth" or "restlessness".