When are Distractions not Distractions?

The mind is easily distracted. No matter how hard we try to concentrate on a particular thought or task somehow the mind is pulled away by some other thought, some outside noise, or a fleeting feeling. Next thing we know we’re completely immersed in off-task thinking.

This is actually a natural adaptive process that allows us to stay alert and respond to changes in our world that might be threatening. In the wild this can aid survival. But this useful tendency becomes a frustrating difficulty in safe, modern contexts where concentration is required. Is there anything that we can do about it?

The first thing to recognize is that you are unlikely to win a war with your mind. These processes are automatic and inborn and not easily altered. So, ‘if you can’t beat em, join em.’ Let the mind do its thing. Let it respond to distractors, while not getting caught up in them, without becoming attached to them. Allow these automatic mental leaps to just happen and observe them. So, rather than be upset by our tendency to be distracted we are entertained by them.

In addition, they are lessons about the nature of our mind. We can learn from them. When distracted, simply reflect upon why this external stimulus was of significance to you; why this particular fleeting thought captured your minds attention. Sometimes it has no real significance. But, often it is a glimpse into unresolved issues. By simply watching and reflecting you open a window into your psyche.

Today’s Research News Article, “Electrophysiological Correlates of Long-Term Soto Zen Meditation.”


suggests how experienced meditators deal with distractions. The answer is that they don’t. They welcome distractions and simply observe them without holding on, without becoming attached. They in essence, do exactly what was suggested above. They don’t try to fight their mind, they simply adapt to it and not let mental machinations disturb them.

So, distractions are not distractions when we don’t grasp hold of them, when we just let them pass through like the sound of a bird chirp, being perceived but then letting it go. A key message is to accept things as they are. Distractions are simply part of how our mind works. Accept it that this is the case. Stop fighting it and you can make distractions your ally rather than your enemy. That’s what the best meditators do.

So, enjoy distractions and then they’re not distractions.



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