Difference between focus and awareness:
Focus should always be one-pointed and narrow. Focus should be accompanied by a strong resolve to only watch what you have chosen to watch. There cannot be any confusion while focusing. Confusion in focusing only shows lack of focus. In fact, more important than the object of focus, is your resolve to focus. The process of watching is infinitely more important than what you are watching.
Meditation teachers encourage students to start with focusing instead of awareness, because if you tell the student to simply sit and be aware of the breath, he will have a lot of questions in his mind. He will ask, “What exactly do you mean by be aware of the breath? How can I just be aware of the breath? Where exactly should I keep my awareness?”
To avoid all this confusion, the teacher says, “Don’t worry about awareness. First, sit and focus. Build the ability to sit in one place without getting distracted.” He might put a dot on the wall and tell you to simply watch it. It just doesn’t matter what you are watching. The most important thing, early on in meditation, is developing the ability to sit and focus. You will continue to have questions, but now you know that when you are meditating, questions are just distractions. All you have to do is focus on the dot.
You can begin to understand how starting your meditation with focus, and then moving to awareness, works. Every time you try to intensely focus on something, your mind interferes and disturbs you. Then, with enough practice, you will realize that it is a lot easier to focus if you are gentle and relaxed, as opposed to being tense.
With practice, you will make the connection between relaxation and focus; the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to keep your focus on something. Being relaxed while you are focusing eventually puts you in a state of awareness. Awareness is nothing but relaxed focusing. In awareness, you can accommodate your questions and confusion, but in focus you cannot do this.
The problem with intense focusing is that it is a constant battle between the object you want to focus on and your thoughts. Focus, by its very nature, cannot accommodate more than one object. While focusing, you can either watch the breath, or watch your thoughts, but you cannot do both.