“Like a stray dog that has no owner, the stray thoughts that are attended to with bare attention are treated as if they, too, are ownerless,” observed Dr. Mark Epstein in his book Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective.
The Buddhist concept of bare attention is akin to the psychological process known as “transitional space,” Epstein observed.
“Long recognized as the crucial stepping stone between infantile dependence and the ability to tolerate being alone, transitional space has been called an ‘intermediate area of experience’ that permits the child a feeling of comfort when separated from the parents.”
“The transitional object — the teddy bear, stuffed animal, blanket or favorite toy — makes possible the movement from a purely subjective experience to one in which other people are experienced as truly ‘other.’ Neither ‘me’ nor ‘not-me,’ the transitional object enjoys a special in-between status that the parents instinctively respect. It is the raft by which the infant crosses over to the understanding of the other.
“Many qualities of the transitional object — its ability to survive intense love and hate, its resistance to change unless changed by the infant, its ability to provide refuge and warmth and its gradual relinquishment — are all shared by bare attention… (which) is different from our usual subjective awareness and has been portrayed in the Tibetan tradition as a kind of ‘spy consciousness’ that observes from the corners of the mind.”
“An image that is sometimes used to convey this constancy is that of a stream rushing under a stone bridge. Through bare attention, it is said, the meditator becomes not like the stream but like the bridge with the stream rushing underneath.”
Epstein describes bare attention as “… impartial, nonjudgmental and open. It is also deeply interested, like a child with a new toy.”