Dealing With Distraction
Do you ever struggle with distraction? Many people get distracted so easily they simply cannot imagine sitting still and quiet for meditation. There is, in the habitual mind an ongoing internal agitation, a constant search for stimulation and diversion.
Distraction seems more common than ever in the digital age where a continuous news feed, a world-wide shopping experience in every imaginable department and updates on all your friends and families are just a click away. Even doing research online is wrought with distractions. You google up a query and a few hours later you realize you’ve been derailed again. Add to that all the old-fashioned, day-to-day distractions that are a part of life and the fact that multi-tasking is the norm its no wonder we’re distracted.
It turns out the yoga teachings have quite a bit to say about distraction. Abhyasa and Vairagya are keys to unlock your mind from many of the traps it gets tangled in. Abhyasa (practice) is to remember the ideal of pure awareness. Vairagya (equanimity) is to greet your entire experience (Including distractions) with imperturbability and evenness of mind.
If you waste time berating yourself for not staying focused or if you hold a charge about getting distracted in your meditations, you are adding to your agitations. If your mind is overly critical, judgmental and opinionated mind-habits form around them. They create internal agitation which is then reflected in the world around you.
With equanimity you reduce them by seeing what is with a child-like objectivity and openness. Often, simply shining the light of awareness on them is enough to resolve an issue. The more you practice noticing, the sooner you will notice you are being side-tracked or distracted. A key element to yoga is to obtain an objective awareness of your mind and how it works, where it goes when distracted and the type and quality of thoughts it gravitates toward.
The sutras suggest that consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad. There is equanimity again! Try this and see if it makes a difference. You’re basically choosing to shift your patterned attitudes from engaging in thoughts that create distraction and agitation to thoughts that calm the mind. It’s easy to say in writing but you may be surprised how challenging it can be to shift the patterning of the mind! If you thought asanas (postures) were a challenge, when you start practicing yoga at this level you’re in a whole different kind of stretching and strengthening. It may take a long time and a lot of practice but its worth it.
In your meditation you have a laboratory, of sorts, where you can observe more closely this tendency of the mind to wander and be on auto-pilot. You can observe the tendency of the ego to hide out in mind wanderings, or any other distractions: anything to keep you from being 100% present and aware. Don’t let your meditations go on “auto-pilot”. That might be more like self-hypnosis. Every time you catch the mind getting distracted you bring it back to breath, mantra or your chosen focus. Eventually, the mind settles and your meditation moves beyond the boundaries of controlling the mind.
As you observe your mind’s tendency to wander, look closer. As if you were examining a multi-faceted gem and you wanted to explore every surface. Now you are entering self-study. So many patterns are not even noticed because they’ve always been there. But if you stop long enough to listen, you may find all kinds of motivations you were not conscious of.
Tapas, intensity in your practice, is having the tenacity to stick it out - wanting clarity bad enough to practice with dilligence. Tapas is a quality you bring to your practice, a fervor that helps you stay the course.
In the end, with all yoga practices, if you are attached to the fruits of your efforts you lose. You must do the work to the absolute best of your ability and surrender the fruits of your efforts and release any clinging to a certain desired outcome. This doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate and thoroughly enjoy the results of your efforts, it means don’t be attached. It means offer, surrender, let go, dedicate your efforts to something bigger than you.
Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. It was developed to bring balance to the system so you can sit still and quiet for meditation and Self-realization. If you feel like you flit from one thing to the next, that may be a vata imbalance. Vata means “that which moves”. Things that might be helpful are a practice called abhyanga - a warm oil massage. I use it pretty regularly in my daily routine because I feel so grounded and comforted by it. It feels like a blanket of security and comfort that goes everywhere with me all day long. I’m sure you can learn about it online. I learned it from the book ‘Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life’, by Dr. Claudia Welch. Although the book is written for women, I do believe it would be of benefit to men as well.
One thing I used for a while is an herb called blue vervain. When my mind was scattered and I moved from one unfinished task to another, making lists to try to get some focus, crossing things out and adding more, I started using blue vervain and suddenly, magically, my weird internal disfunction seemed to dissolve. Some other things to ask yourself if you struggle with distraction are ‘do you fill your life too full?’ ‘Are you creating too much busyness by over-booking, over-planning, and trying to control too much? Stop adding to the situation.
It’s important to remember that yoga is infinitely bigger and more substantial than simply a way to reduce your struggles, or a life-management system. It may, at times, be helpful to use it that way, to use your discomfort and struggles as impetus for action but it’s not about getting in your comfort zone. It’s more about being fully alive, awake, aware with life as it unfolds. It is about waking up to your true nature. Do you have any tricks to deal with distraction? Why not share them with us? If you are an ayurveda practitioner, feel invited to leave a comment - leave a way to contact you if you welcome inquiries or see people in your area.