In meditation literature and teaching, both traditional and modern, there is a confusing discrepancy in the use of the terms "attention" and "awareness".
Here are two main confusions:
Attention and awareness are equated and used interchangeably, although they rest on different neurological mechanisms
Awareness can mean "peripheral awareness" in a cognitive science based way, or it can have the general meaning of "consciousness" or "mind".
This is a confusing example by Sam Harris:
I want you to pay very close attention to the breath. See, if you can refine your awareness on it, exclusively. (Waking Up app, 11. Nov. 2023)
He hasn´t read Culadasa yet, or he would not be so sloppy!
The rule seems to be: the more an author or teacher is acquainted with cognitive science and neuroscience, the more precise their language will be.
But even some teachers who one thinks are close to science, ignore the science in their practical meditation teaching terminology (An example by Sam Harris here).
The cognitive science view
In cognitive science, attention (as in "focused attention") and awareness (as in "peripheral awareness") are two neurologically different capabilities.
They are supported by different brain areas, have different characteristics, and when used have different effects.
Example 1: Culadasa
The most precise and explicit meditation teacher author is without doubt the deceased Culadasa. Culadasa goes so far as to define "mindfulness" based on those two distinct capabilities, and makes this distinction the foundation of his "The Mind Illuminated" (Yates 2017)
Mindfulness is the optimal balance of attention and awareness
Note: Maybe one can find here an analogue to the "event view / mind view" distinction.
This is an overview table by Culadasa:
Holistic, relational, contextual
Isolates and analyses
Filters all incoming information
Selects information from awareness
Acts as watchful alert system
Hones in on objects
Less processing, quicker response
More processing, slower response
Less personal and more objective
More "self" centered
Can be introspective and extrospective
Can be introspective or extrospective
Example 2: James Austin
The less well known (and very hard to read) neuroscientist James Austin is also explicit in the reference to science. He distinguishes two types of meditation based on these capabilities:
A more effortless , sustainted attention, unfocused and inclusive
A more effortful, sustained attention, focused and exclusive
A more open, universal, bare awareness. It expresses involuntary modes of bottom-up processing
A more deliberate, one-pointed attention. It requires voluntarys top-down processing
A bare choice-less awareness
Chosing to "pay attention"
(Austin 2013, Table 1, "The Attentive Art of Meditation: Two different categories")
See also my post on Sam Harris use of the terms.
Austin, J. H. (1998). Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. MIT Press. https://www.amazon.de/-/en/James-H-Austin/dp/0262011646
A very extensive dissection of a kensho experience by a cognitive scientist. This is a massive science book written by a cognitive scientist having had several extraordinary state experiences through meditation. Warning: he usesan unkniwn type of object called "floppy disk" as symbol forstorage... meaning the book describes and experience made in 1974 and was written well before the current research wave.But it is still worthwhile reading.It was the Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 1998
Austin, J. H. (2013). Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen (Mit Press) (Illustrated ed.). The MIT Press.