Whether engaged in eating a peach, watching a movie, making love, listening to a song or being mindfully aware, undistracted focus adds a powerful dimension of pleasure. Undistracted focus on an ache or pain, or on a disturbing thought, can intensify negative feelings or provide the space that is needed to avoid being caught up in the feeling. Mindful focused attention is liberating.
Focused attention, concentration, on a task increases the ability to perform optimally - sustainably efficient and effective. Undistracted attention enhances the moment and gives rise to a stress-free state of calm spaciousness. There is a sense of effortlessness; a subtle stepping back.
The only reality is in this very moment.
Distractions obscure the ever present now.
To rest in the now is to be in flow.
To recognize distraction and return to now is meditation.
Distractions Challenge Concentration
Concentration brings on flow. Distractions challenge concentration; they prevent giving the full attention needed to be in flow. Distractions are caused by thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sounds, sights, smells or any of the other things that bombard us every day. Distractions may be pleasant or unpleasant. The main ones are attachment, aversion, restless or worried mind, dullness and doubt.
Distractions can become so normal that we live life never really staying focused long enough to find the joy and power of the moment. If we manage distractions well, we can do anything - listen to music, watch a movie or be in a conversation, read or write - without being dragged away by texts, phone calls or thoughts. M
anaging distractions well means recognizing a distraction as early in its life as possible and bringing attention back to the chosen object of concentration - the task, a sense of presence or awareness, a conversation, book, movie or song.
Meditation is mental exercise. It is a training for being in flow. Meditation consists of three parts - concentration, effort, and mindfulness. It is the process of training the mind to be better able to experience heightened states of awareness, flow and calm spaciousness, as well as to be better able to obtain insights and objectivity. The insights and objectivity promote responsiveness rather than reactivity. Both the heightened states and the ability to be responsive enable optimal performance, reduce stress and promote good health. Anything can become a meditation exercise.
There is a story about a king who was having trouble maintaining concentrated attention. He seemed unable to still his mind in meditation or stay focused on a task. He was about to just give up on meditation and live with his scattered mind when his meditation teacher told the king that he had a solution. The solution was a dangerous one that required that the king's guards fully obey the teacher's instructions. The king was motivated to excel so he agreed to give it a try.
The teacher filled a bowl w ith water and placed it atop the king's head. He told the king to walk to the market square and back, without spilling a drop of water. The teacher also told the k
ing's guards "If he spills a single drop, cut off his head."
Under the threat of death, the king was so totally one pointed that he made the journey without spilling a drop, totally undistracted by the movement of the market place.
When a person's life depends upon his focus, there is full relaxed attention that seems effortless. Typical distractions are barely noticed.
Effort and Mindfulness
Unfortunately, or fortunately, much of the time our activities are not so engaging. It becomes necessary to
apply relaxed but firm effort to bring attention back to the object of concentration when becoming aware of distractions. Without the effort, we would be off on many "mind trips", following this or that thought, and the thoughts triggered by them.
Mindfulness is objective awareness of whatever is occurring - thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, etc. Mindfulness is the mental characteristic that becomes aware of a distraction and of the movement of attention. It enables the choice to apply effort and sustain focus.
Distractors and Distractions
Distractions break the flow and take you out of the zone. They are triggered by thoughts, sounds, smells, tastes, sights, physical sensations. I take a bite of something and there is taste, the nose detects an aroma and there is smell, a bell rings, sound. If concentration is strong, I might hear the bell and not be disturb by it. I might not even consciously hear it. Alternatively, thoughts may be triggered by the sound - "What a lovely sound. What a great bell. Where can I get one?" This is distraction. It could just as easily be - "What an annoyance!" - or worry - "How am going to get any work done with all this noise? if I don't get it done, I will get fired."
The mind goes off on a train of thought, until mindfulness recognizes what is happening. Then, it is possible to manage the distraction. The bottom-line is, don't get on the train unless you choose to. Like the king, hear the sound and seamlessly stay focused.
If you do get on unconsciously, get off as quickly as possible. Getting off ASAP implies that thoughts and feelings have taken the place of the sound itself and are triggering more thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings feed the distraction. The train picks up speed. The more energy and speed the distraction has, the harder it is to get off. The distraction continues until it is replaced by another distraction or until the mind is brought back to focused attention on a chosen object.
Recognition and Return
Distractions are not all bad. When working on increasing concentration and mindfulness, each distraction is an opportunity to recognize and return to focused attention. Each recognition is a moment of awareness. Each return of attention to a chosen object strengthens concentration. Over time, the repetition of recognition and return reduces the frequency of distractions and the time and effort it takes to return.
If you want to be able to apply relaxed focus, cultivate your power of attention by practicing meditation until you naturally rest in the present moment.