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Dealing With Distractions In Mindfulness Meditation.  So, there you are, meditating beautifully.  Your body is totally immobile, and your mind is totally still;  You just glide right along following the flow of the breath, in, out, in, out….calm, serene and concentrated.  Everything is perfect.  And then, all of a sudden, something totally different pops into your mind;  “I sure wish I had an ice cream cone.”.  That’s a distraction, obviously, that’s not what you are supposed to be doing.  You notice that, and you drag yourself back to the breath, back to the smooth flow, in, out, in……And then;  “Did I ever pay that cell ‘phone bill”?  Another distraction.  You notice that one, and you haul yourself back to the breath.  In, out, in, out, in……”That new science fiction movie is out.  Maybe I can see it with my partner on Tuesday”  No, not on Tuesday, got too much to do.  Thursday’s better”……..  Another distraction.  You pull yourself out of that one, and back you go to the breath, except that you never quite get there, because before you do, that little voice in your head says   ”My back is killing me”.  On and on it goes, distraction after distraction, seemingly without end.

What a bother.  But this is what it is all about.  These distractions are actually the whole point.  The key is to learn to deal with these things.  Learning to notice them without being trapped in them.  That’s what we are here for.  This mental wandering is unpleasant, to be sure.  But it is the normal mode of operation of your mind.  Don’t think of it as the enemy.  It is just the simple reality.  And if you want to change something, the first thing you have to do is to see it the way it is.

When you first sit down to concentrate on the breath, you will be struck by how incredibly busy the mind actually is.  It jumps and jibbers.  It veers and bucks.  It chases itself around in constant circles.  It chatters.  It thinks.  It fantasizes and daydreams.  Don’t be upset about that.  It’s natural.  When your mind wanders from the subject of meditation, just observe the distraction mindfully.

When we speak of a distraction in mindfulness meditation, we are speaking of any preoccupation that pulls the attention off the breath.  This brings up a new, major rule for your meditation;  When any mental states arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation, switch your attention to the distraction briefly.  Make the distraction a temporary object of meditation.  Please note the word “temporary”.  It’s quite important.  We are not advising that you switch horses in midstream.  We do not expect you to adopt a whole new object of meditation every three seconds.  The breath will always remain your primary focus.  You switch your attention to the distraction only long enough to notice certain specific things about it.  What is it?  How strong is it?  And, how long does it last?

As soon as you have wordlessly answered these questions, you are through with your examination of that distraction, and you return your attention to the breath.  Here again, please note the operant term, “wordlessly”.  These questions are not an invitation to more mental chatter.  That would be moving you in the wrong direction, toward more thinking.  We want you to move away from thinking, back to a direct, wordless and non-conceptual experience of the breath.  These questions are designed to free you from the distraction and give you insight into its nature, not to get you more thoroughly stuck in it.  They will tune you in to what is distracting you and help you get rid of it all in one step.

When you first begin to practice this technique you will probably have to do it with word.  You will ask your questions in words, and get answers in words.  It won’t be long, however, before you can dispense “with the formality of words” altogether.  Once the mental habits are in place, you simply note the distraction, note the qualities of the distraction, and return to the breath.  It’s a totally non-conceptual process, and it’s very quick.  The distraction itself can be anything;  a sound, a sensation, an emotion, a fantasy, anything at all.  Whatever it is, don’t try to repress it.  Don’t try to force it out of your mind.  There’s no need for that.  Just observe it mindfully with bare attention.  Examine the distraction wordlessly and it will pass away by itself.

Watch the sequence of events;  breathing, breathing, distracting thought arises.  Frustration arising over the distracting thought.  You condemn yourself for being distracted.  You notice the self-condemnation.  You return to the breathing.  Breathing.  Breathing.  It’s really a very natural smooth-flowing cycle, if you do it correctly.  The trick, of course, is patience.  If you can learn to observe these distractions without getting involved, it’s all very easy.  You just glide through the distraction and your attention returns to the breath quite easily.  Of course, the very same distraction may pop up a moment later.  If it does, just observe that mindfully.  If you are dealing with an old, established thought pattern, this can go on happening for quite a while, somethings years.  Don’t get upset.  This too is natural.  Just observe the distraction and return to the breath.  Don’t fight with these distracting thoughts   Don’t strain or struggle.  It’s a waste.  Every bit of energy that you apply to that resistance goes into the thought complex and makes it all the stronger.  So don’t try to force such thoughts out of your mind.  It’s a battle you can never win.  Just observe the distraction mindfully and it will eventually go away.  It’s very strange, but the more bare attention you pay to such disturbances, the weaker they get.  Observe them long enough and often enough with bare attention and they fade away forever.  Fight with them and they gain strength.  Watch them with detachment and they wither.

Mindfulness is a function that disarms distraction…..Weak distractions are disarmed by a single-glance.  Shine the light of awareness on them and they evaporate instantly, never to return.  Deep-seated, habitual thought patterns require constant mindfulness repeatedly applied over whatever time period it takes to break their hold.  Distractions are really paper tigers.  They have no power of their own.  They need to be fed constantly or else they die.  If you refuse to feed them by your own fear, anger and greed, they fade.  The purpose of meditation is not to concentrate on the breath, without interruption forever.  That by itself would be a useless goal.  The purpose of meditation is not to achieve a perfectly still and serene mind.  Although a lovely state, it doesn’t lead to liberation by itself.  The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness.

Source:  “Mindfulness In Plain English” By Venerable Henepola Gunaratana
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