I run a meditation group at my office twice a week. Not too long ago, someone lamented after a session, “I couldn’t relax, I kept hearing the ticking of the clock – it was so distracting!”
While I understand what she was saying, and certainly have had times when I was unable to let go of a thought or a noise, the issue of distractions is rooted in a fundamental perspective that, when shifted, paves another way forward.
What Are Your Priorities?
Distractions are only distractions if we choose for them to be. When we say we’re distracted by something, we are giving that thing a higher priority in our mind than our task at hand.
I have a client who wanted to work on his road rage. With some introspection, we were able to determine that his sudden bursts of anger were rooted in a sense of feeling trapped in life.
I offered him some techniques he could employ at home before our next session to understand how this feeling of his shows up in his day-to-day in more subtle ways.
He came to his next session and I asked him how it went. He said, “Well…. you know, I wanted to do that, but I kept getting distracted by my wife or the news or my dogs…” and he trailed off.
Knowing he’s a big football fan, I asked him when he’s watching the Patriots and his wife comes in the room and asks him to do something, is he distracted then? Does he get pulled away from the game that easily?
Without hesitation he replied, “No way man! When I’m watching the game, I’m in it. I don’t even know what else is going on around me. My wife has to say things three times before they register when the Pats are on.”
The “distractions” that show up when he went to do some of his homework were things that show up regardless if he’s being introspective or immersed in the game on TV.
When he “wanted” to look internally, he considered these other things to be a higher priority so he gave his attention to them. But when watching football was his highest priority, other things had a much steeper hill to climb to make a dent in his awareness.
Distraction In Meditation
The same is true in meditation. When we are distracted by noise or a twitching muscle in our eye, we are prioritizing that sensation over our practice. We are saying it is more important to pay attention to that noise than it is to be still.
We have a lot of cultural conditioning which reinforces this. We live in a world of instant gratification and the expectation of immediate response to communication.
There is a competition for our attention, and an expectation that our attention is up for grabs to the highest bidder who uses the specific alarming tone or eye-catching combination of superlatives.
Consider your own experience reading this article. How high a priority is this? If you receive a text message or an email while you’re reading this, do you stop and tend to that?
I’m not judging where you place your priorities. That is your choice for you to determine what is most important to you.
However, I invite you to consider that you have more control over where your focus goes than you may have otherwise thought.
It is important for us to realize we have control over our own attention.
We get to say where we are focusing and where we are not.
We get to decide where our priorities lie.
We are in control of what we pay attention to.
The Highest Priority
When you meditate, make that your highest priority. There is a conditioning to pull you away to the newest stimulus, but any conditioning can be adjusted. Any learned behavior can be unlearned.
Just because a clock ticks or a phone buzzes does not mean it is more important than what you are doing.
Make being still your highest priority, and see how that control of your awareness can filter out into the rest of your life.