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18064Dealing With Distractions in Meditation

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Dec 1, 2011
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      An excerpt from Mindfulness In Plain English
      By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

      When we speak of a distraction in Insight Meditation,
      we are speaking of any preoccupation that pulls the
      attention off the breath. This brings up a new, major
      rule for your meditation: When any mental state arises
      strongly enough to distract you from the object of
      meditation, switch your attention to the distraction
      briefly. Make the distraction a temporary object of
      meditation. Please note the word temporary. It's quite
      important. We are not advising that you switch horses
      in midstream. We do not expect you to adopt a whole new
      object of meditation every three seconds. The breath
      will always remain your primary focus. You switch your
      attention to the distraction only long enough to notice
      certain specific things about it. What is it? How strong
      is it? and, how long does it last? As soon as you have
      wordlessly answered these questions, you are through
      with your examination of that distraction, and you return
      your attention to the breath. Here again, please note
      the operant term, wordlessly. These questions are not
      an invitation to more mental chatter. That would be moving
      you in the wrong direction, toward more thinking. We want
      you to move away from thinking, back to a direct, wordless
      and nonconceptual experience of the breath. These
      questions are designed to free you from the distraction
      and give you insight into its nature, not to get you more
      thoroughly stuck in it. They will tune you in to what
      is distracting you and help you get rid of it--all in one step.

      Here is the problem: When a distraction, or any mental
      state, arises in the mind, it blossoms forth first in
      the unconscious. Only a moment later does it rise to
      the conscious mind. That split-second difference is quite
      important, because it is time enough for grasping to
      occur. Grasping occurs almost instantaneously, and it
      takes place first in the unconscious. Thus, by the time
      the grasping rises to the level of conscious recognition,
      we have already begun to lock on to it. It is quite natural
      for us to simply continue that process, getting more and
      more tightly stuck in the distraction as we continue to
      view it. We are, by this time, quite definitely thinking
      the thought, rather than just viewing it with bare
      attention. The whole sequence takes place in a flash.
      This presents us with a problem. By the time we become
      consciously aware of a distraction we are already, in a
      sense, stuck in it. Our three questions are a clever
      remedy for this particular malady. In order to answer
      these questions, we must ascertain the quality of the
      distraction. To do that, we must divorce ourselves from
      it, take a mental step back from it, disengage from it,
      and view it objectively. We must stop thinking the thought
      or feeling the feeling in order to view it as an object of inspection. This very process is an exercise in mindfulness: uninvolved, detached awareness. The hold of the distraction
      is thus broken, and mindfulness is back in control. At this
      point, mindfulness makes a smooth transition back to its
      primary focus and we return to the breath.

      When you first begin to practice this technique, you
      will probably have to do it with words. You will ask your
      questions in words, and get answers in words. It won't
      be long, however, before you can dispense with the
      formality of words altogether. Once the mental habits
      are in place, you simply note the distraction, note the
      qualities of the distraction, and return to the breath.
      It's a totally nonconceptual process, and it's very quick.
      The distraction itself can be anything: a sound, a
      sensation, an emotion, a fantasy, anything at all.
      Whatever it is, don't try to repress it. Don't try to
      force it out of your mind. There's no need for that. Just
      observe it mindfully with bare attention. Examine the
      distraction wordlessly and it will pass away by itself.
      You will find your attention drifting effortlessly back
      to the breath. And do not condemn yourself for having
      been distracted. Distractions are natural. They come and
      they go.
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