Distractions are very common during meditation. In fact, how you handle distractions is one of the most important parts of meditation. Believe it or not, distractions can actually be a big help to your meditation practice! Remember: the goal of meditation is not to have a blank mind at all times. The whole experience – including the experience of distraction – can be beneficial.
So, how do you handle distractions during meditation?
Don’t Create New Resistance
The mindset of “non-craving, non-resistance” is an important philosophy in meditation. Basically, it means experiencing the world exactly the way it is, without hoping it was somehow different. Instead, you’re simply living it as it is.
One subtle way meditators can create resistance is resisting distraction itself. They beat themselves up for being distracted, feel like they’re not doing a good job or wish they were having a somehow different experience (more peaceful, more concentrated, more enlightened, etc.)
This is a great opportunity to practice non-resistance. Simply be with your distractedness, with self-compassion, and bring your attention back to the present whenever you find yourself distracted.
The Moment of Noticing
The moment you move from being distracted to noticing you were distracted is an important moment. You’re essentially moving from an unconscious behavior – e.g. daydreaming or having random thoughts without choosing to think about them – into a conscious behavior . You move from an un-awake behavior, to being able to consciously choose your next thought or action.
The way you handle this moment is important. In fact, it can be a reflection of – and practice for – the rest of your life. For example, do you start to compare yourself to other meditators, who seem to experience distraction less often? If so, can you see this pattern – for example, of comparing yourself to others – in other parts of your life?
Once you notice your tendencies in how you treat yourself and how you manage your mind in these moments, you can consciously practice different behaviors. In our example, instead of comparing yourself to imaginary “perfect” meditators, you might choose to compassionately bring your attention back to the present.
Every person’s unconscious mental behaviors are different. Your distractions, and patterns in bringing yourself back to the meditation, can be a valuable window into your mind’s behaviors.
Two Ways of Approaching Distraction
Basically, we’ve talked about two ways to approach distraction:
1) Simply bring your attention back to whatever you’re meditating on. The present, your breath, physical sensations, etc. Do it compassionately. Then, continue with your meditation.
2) Treat it as an educational experience. Examine how you treat yourself, as well as how your mind works, in moments of distraction and in moments of noticing. Then see if these realizations offer insights into the rest of your life.
The approach you choose depends on the type of meditation you’re doing, or where you want to take your mind in any given meditation. Whichever approach you choose, remember that the goal isn’t to have a perfectly blank mind. Distractions are a key part of the whole meditation experience.