You sit down for a few minutes, or longer, to practice meditation.
You have chosen the breath as the object of your meditation or you have chosen to repeat over and over some word or phrase that is meaningful to you. Those who believe in God approach meditation in one way, those who do not believe follow another path as do those who are not sure what to believe.
After a few moments, or minutes, you “wake-up” and realize you have drifted off into some distraction and have lost your focus on the breath or your sacred word.
What are the most effective ways to work with distractions? Here are a few suggestions:
1) In the moment you realize you have become distracted notice carefully if there is any sense of self-reproach in that moment and the ones that follow? Is there any tension or judgement of self for having lost your focus again?
If there is, do not judge yourself for having judged yourself. See if you can offer a patient knowing smile towards yourself and gently draw your attention back to the breath or sacred word. Observe any frustration or impatience that may arise without judging yourself for “being a bad meditator”. Just observe the feelings and thoughts that do arise in the moment when you realize you have become distracted yet again.
Observe and notice without judgement and gently draw your attention back to the breath or sacred word, or whatever theme you have chosen as the object of your meditation.
2) Pause for a moment to consider whether the distraction was a thought about the past or the future. You can be sure it was one of the two, for if you had remained focused on the present you would still be focused on your breath or sacred word or phrase.
Pause for a few moments to observe your buttocks sitting on the cushion or chair. Notice the sensations of the body as well, such as the abdomen rising and falling as you breathe in and out or the feeling of your hands whether they are folded or resting on your knees.
Checking in with the sensations of your body always opens the door back to the present.
Once you feel grounded in the sensations of the body in the present moment you can then draw your attention back to the more narrow focus of the breath at the point of the nostrils or to your sacred word. What is helpful about this technique is that you can begin to notice how often the mind drifts off into the past or the future both during meditation and in the active hours of life. Remembering to remember to notice whether it is the past or the future you are thinking about will be helpful. Remembering to then notice any of the different sensations of the body will begin to strengthen the ability to return to the present moment and to remain focused as new moments unfold.
3) Another way of working with distractions is to notice who you were thinking about during the distraction. Was it some thought about yourself? Was it a thought about your wife or husband, child, or parent, boss or co-worker? Were you thinking about some political issue or the politician involved in that issue?
Whoever it was, pause for a moment and offer a loving wish either to yourself or whoever you were thinking of and then return to the object of your meditation. “May I be happy. May I be well”, or, “May they be happy. May they be well.” A simple moment to exercise your skills and develop your talent with loving-kindness is all that is needed. Then return to the awareness of your breath or sacred word or phrase.
Any one of these techniques or a combination of two of them, or all of them, will help as you work with distractions. They are helpful because each of them will allow you to notice another nuance about your inner experience during meditation or in the active hours of your life. These efforts will allow you to accept the fact that the mind often becomes distracted. These efforts will also, over time, strengthen the power of mindfulness so that distractions will begin to happen less frequently.
Over time you will begin to see all the different streams of phenomena that make up the overall sense if your interior experience.
There are the sensations of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and the passing thoughts of the moment.
There are the words that make up the sentences that make up the inner dialogue of our mind and the distractions we experience.
There are the times of self-judgement and the judgement of others and other interpretive valuations.
There is a general tendency for the mind to skip absent-mindedly into the past or the future?
There is the general sense, either potent or not-so-potent, of “I” and “me” and “mine”
There are the various feelings of anger, fear, happiness, guilt, triumph, desire, and loss.
The mind, the brain, and the body are a vast and intricate web threads that are woven together into the complex quilt or mosaic we individually call “I” or “me” or “my experience”.
Sitting in meditation and paying a bit closer attention to the distractions when we notice we have become distracted is one way to begin to see how much is going on moment by moment in the mind. How much is arising, how much is continuing to be present, how much is fading and being supplanted by the next arising phenomena?
Above all be patient with yourself. There is a lot more happening in your mind and body than you are aware. Any one of the multiple sensations or fleeting clusters, feelings or thoughts can be enough to hijack the mind into one distraction or another.
Be patient. All of this is more challenging and more rewarding than it may appear.
What have you chosen to use as the object of your meditation? Have you chosen the breath, or some sacred word, phrase, or image?
How often do you find you are distracted during a meditation sessions. How do you work with the distractions that do arise?
Send me a note. All clear and constructive comments will be posted.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” Host of MeditationPractice.com firstname.lastname@example.org 774-232-0884