Meditation as a Tool for Dealing with Distraction
Being distracted is part of the human condition. Our monkey minds are often unfocused and trapped in thoughts and wanderings. Worse yet, modern life has added to our distractedness with its enticing baits, from scrolling on social media to binge-watching on Netflix.
Although distraction is not new to humans, it comes at a cost. The brain handles one task at a time, so when we engage in parallel tasks, the brain toggles from one task to another in rapid succession, negatively impacting our cognitive ability. This shift in focus not only reduces our mental capacity but also makes us unhappy, as we’re happier when we are focused or in a state of flow.
What causes distraction?
According to studies, the human mind is wired that way. From a Buddhist perspective, it seems like a distraction is a subconscious mechanism of the ego to protect ourselves against the pains of life. The practice of mindfulness helps us figure out what is behind our distractedness. Quite often we engage in it as an avoidance tool - a way of consciously or unconsciously escaping discomfort. Whether the discomfort is physical, cognitive (such as information overload), or emotional (such as feelings of boredom), the distraction habit loop is very much the same (there is a trigger: boredom; an ensuing behavior: scrolling Instagram; and a reward: feeling better from being bored).
How can we deal with distraction?
Awareness gets to the root of this. During meditation, when our attention wanders, we bring it back to our anchor. The same principle applies to our distractions as they relate to discomfort. In our everyday life, when we notice that we are distracting ourselves to escape some form of discomfort, we recognize the discomfort for what it is. Then we allow it to be present, taking a moment to be with it, experiencing and observing it with kindness and curiosity. We explore how the discomfort manifests, noticing changes in bodily sensations and emotional states, and using our breath to ground us, helping release tension, and quietening the chatter in our minds. This process brings more focus to our minds, alleviating distractions and reducing suffering.