Dealing with Distractions

We live in a busy world and no matter how much we try we cannot avoid the distractions of daily life. Once on retreat on an island, with no traffic and no telephone, television or other distractions, the silence was still disturbed by the banging of doors. Another time the retreat centre we visited was the surrounded by trees with a large family of very noisy rooks. No matter how we try, we will never get rid of all distractions. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t do what we can to avoid them. Find as quiet a place as possible, close the door, ask family not to disturb you, turn off the telephone. Do whatever you can to make your meditation place as quiet as possible.

The main technique for dealing with distractions is to treat them as just another thing going on at this moment. Be aware of them but avoid, as much as possible, thinking about them or analysing them.

In his book Meditation Week by Week, David Fontana suggests the following approach for dealing with distractions. “When dealing with distractions from the environment it is important to refrain from trying to shut the distraction out. Deliberate attempts to remain unmoved by it invariably meets with failure. The following techniques may help.

1. First allow the distraction to register on your mind, in much the same way that you observe your thoughts.

2. Next, as with your thoughts remain an observer rather than a participant in the distraction. Don’t allow it to dominate you. If you do you become part of it.

3. Don’t try to identify the distraction. If it is a sudden noise from the street let it remain a sudden noise from the street, rather than trying to decide if it’s a lawn mower or a power tool and which neighbour is responsible for causing it.

4. Don’t respond emotionally to the distraction. Judging it as unpleasant or pleasant, or resenting the fact that your neighbour or your family can be so noisy, only strengthens the chance of this noise disturbing you. It is simply noise nothing more.

5. You may then find that the distraction fades into the background. As with pain it is still there, but it no longer bothers you. If it doesn’t fade, recognise nevertheless as a learning experience of value to your meditation. And if you do succeed in remaining unmoved by it this is a sign of good progress.

6. Finally, don’t abandon the meditation session because of a distraction. If you do the distraction has won. It is sometimes said that you should soften yourself around the distraction, instead of becoming hard to it. Experience will help you to recognise what this means.

Occasionally a distraction occurs which does have to be dealt with. Don’t be so absorbed with your meditation that you ignore practical things that need seeing to. I Know of situations where candles have started to damage objects and potentially start fires. Once we were disturbed by someone entering the building, but we all refused to be disturbed even though we were suspicious. It turned out to be a burglar who took keys and phones.