During the retreat, it was also very clear how only beliefs are distracting.
A thought (story) arises, and if there is no belief in it, it just arises and vanishes into emptiness. It is just a guest, just like clouds, the wind, water in a stream, and anything else. Attention does not necessarily go there, and if it does, it is seen as just a thought. Attention also does not necessarily go into the content of the thought, but even if it does, it is still seen as just a thought.
It is only beliefs that attention cannot resist. When a story arises, and it is attached to, taken as having some absolute truth, then attention gets swept away, lured in, caught up in it…
It really has little choice, unless it happens within a situation where it is easier to see a thought as just a thought, such as when attention is brought to it and aids such as labeling (“thought”) is used. The other option is to inquire into the content of the thought, allowing the attachment to it fall away that way.
The first approach, seeing a thought as just a thought, can be done in real-time, but does not necessarily dissolve the belief itself… next time the thought arises, which it will, the attachment is likely to be there again. Still, the tendency to attach to that particular story, and any story, may wear off over time, changing the habitual patterns of attaching to it. Each time the thought is seen as just a thought, the tendency to attach to it weakens a little, the grooves get a little less deep. But this may be a slow and painstaking process.
The second approach, of inquiring into the content of the thought, requires some time specifically set aside for that purpose, but can allow attachments fall away relatively quickly. When the thought is thoroughly explored… its truth content, its effects, how it would be without it, and the truths in all its reversals… attachment naturally tends to fall away. The story becomes just a story again, without the tendency to attach to it or see it as anything more than just one of innumerable relative truths.
So only thoughts believed in, attached to as more than a relative truth, are distracting, allowing attention to be caught up in its content. Creating a world out of the story that appear as more than just a story, that appear as real.
Looking a little further, I also see that it may appear as if situations and things in themselves are distracting, but it is really the believed-in story triggered by them that is. Similarly, it may appear as if there is attachment to situations and things, but again, the attachment is really to the believed-in story triggered by them.
Luckily, we can get familiar with this terrain so the attachment to stories fade and fall away. And we can do this through (a) seeing thoughts as just thoughts (through for instance labeling practice) weakening the habitual tendency to attach to them, and (b) inquiring into the content of the thoughts, allowing the attachment to them to fall away that way.