Books I Recommend

  • Michael Meade: “Fate and Destiny” and just about anything Meade has done. He draws from story and the Mythical realm to communicate deep knowledge about skillful ways to respond to today’s extraordinary global circumstances.
  • Adyashanti: “Emptyness Dancing” and “The End of your World”
  • Pema Chodren: “When things Fall apart”
  • Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: “Rebel Buddha” and “Mind Beyond Death”
  • Joseph Goldstein: “The Experience of Insight”

Articles by Tom Fuller

On Awakening:

Mindfulness and Distraction

October 2015
(For a deeper look into this meditation practice, see Blog Post entitled “Training the Mind for Shadow Work)

We’ve all had the experience of heading out into the day with full intention to accomplish a certain thing and then gotten to the end of the day having done very little of that thing or having forgotten about it altogether! What happened that derailed us from that idea that we started the day with?
It might be that other things came up; someone called us, we ran out of gas, or a child got sick and we had to attend to her.
Or it might be that we just got distracted.

There are three levels of distraction I’d like to address here.
One is the situation described above, where you’re heading in one direction and are derailed by “circumstances”.
Another is when you get on your computer to send an email to a friend, or purchase something from Amazon. You decide to check Facebook quickly and emerge an hour later wondering what happened to the time.
A third kind of distraction is implicit in the realm of karma that we live in. It’s the experience that most of us have as we are getting involved in the “Waking Up” project. It’s the process of one event conditioning another, and that event conditioning the next. Stimulus-response. Action-reaction. Its’ a basic unconscious movement from one situation to the next. It’s what underlies the fact of us winding up in one relationship that looks very much like the last one (or three) we had. It’s what feeds the tendency to “keep repeating the same mistakes” or continuing to do the things that always bear negative consequences for ourselves and perhaps others.

Of course, all three of these examples of “distraction” are similar and perhaps a matter of degree. The first example may bring frustration as we realize we only accomplished three of the ten things we had on our “to-do” list for the day. The second example may bring a sense of self-deprecation or judgment as we continually find ourselves lost in Facebook land in spite of our constantly telling ourselves to “stop doing that!” The third situation, of course, feels more entrenched. It may feel like our lot in life. We may tell ourselves that that’s “just the way we are”, though we may harbor feelings moving from confusion to frustration or sadness, all the way to self-loathing about these patterns we find ourselves locked in.

The question is, then, is there anything we can do about it?

There is, and it entails the development of mindfulness and concentration.
In Buddhism, these are considered the two “mental factors” which are responsible for the development of the kind of attention or consciousness that is required to see more clearly what is going on in one’s life and to develop the quality of wisdom.
Concentration is described as “the ability of the mind to stay steady on an object” and Mindfulness is “that which notices what is going on in the moment and doesn’t allow the mind to become forgetful.”* I think it’s useful to clarify these two definitions because sometimes, not doing so can lead to confusion. If we’re going to make headway in dealing with our “distraction problem” we need both factors to be working together.
Concentration by itself is not enough. When we’re lost in Facebook, we’re very concentrated. The attention is very focused in the Facebook world and does not get pulled off into other things. When our kids are involved with their computer games, they’re very concentrated. They just have no mindfulness operating that holds a context within which that concentrated video game is happening. That’s another way to talk about mindfulness, in that it holds a context, or it maintains an awareness about where the attention is going at any given moment. If we were able to maintain mindfulness when we switched on to Facebook, we could get off after 5 or 10 minutes and would remember to be aware of the time, and our intention to only be on it for that amount of time.

A classic way that these two mental factors are developed is through a meditation practice, or more specifically, a Concentration Practice. There are many Buddhist and Christian teachers who teach this practice and a very common approach is to utilize the breath as the object of concentration. The instruction is very simple; to keep the attention trained on the breath as it moves in and out of the body. When the mind wanders, as soon as you’ve noticed that you’re distracted, you bring the attention back to the breath. In this circumstance, concentration is what keeps the attention focused on the breath and the mindfulness is what notices that the attention has wandered and reminds us to bring it back to the breath. Through participating in this practice for 10 to 30 minutes a day, or by taking many moments throughout the day to be present with our breath, we gradually increase the strength of our concentration and our mindfulness.

As we do this,- as we pursue this practice and proceed down the path of enhancing awareness, we find that we are able to be more present in our daily activities. We are less likely to get distracted when we don’t want to be. As we continue to get stronger in these two factors, we find that we can use that awareness to study the patterns in our lives that seem to cause us so much dissatisfaction. As we bring our attention to those patterns, we come to find ways to interrupt them. We come to be more responsive to our lives and the people we interact with, rather than just reacting. Concentration and mindfulness practice have the ability to free us from deep-seated dysfunctional patterns. All it takes is a little intention to get started, and then persistence to keep with it.

*Joseph Goldstein P.23

Contact me if you need help getting into a meditation support group in Portland.