Distractions as support

There are (at least) two main ways of relating to distractions, especially in the context of any form of body-centered, psychological or spiritual exploration.

One is to see distraction as a distraction, and bring attention back to wherever the practice tells us it is supposed to be. This can be helpful in its own way, although can also easily become a subtle battle and create an I-Other split (I as stable attention and the belief that stable attention is desirable, and Other as distraction.)

Another is to work with distraction, see how it is a gift, and follow its invitation for exploration. When attention is distracted, it is only because a story comes up that is seen as juicy, charged, and is believed in. Distraction is then a very valuable sign post, pointing directly to a belief. So we can take its invitation, allow it to go to the belief, become more conscious of the belief, take it to inquiry, and also be with whatever emotions it trigger in a heartfelt way. In that way, distraction becomes a precious teacher and pointer.

The first approach has its benefits in encouraging mindfulness and stable attention, but it also does have an element of struggle and working against the grain. Distraction very easily appears as a disturbance, an Other.

The second is in many ways a far more skillful approach, going to the root of what is behind distraction, investigating it, and allowing it to fall away. Here, distraction becomes a support.

In the absence of a belief in a story, there is no draw for attention to go to the inside of the story and be absorbed into it (unless it has a practical purpose, for this human self in the world). It arises as anything else, is recognized as a thought, and is free to live its own life, which is brief when it is not fueled by beliefs. It arises within the naturally clear awareness, as as a brief form of awareness itself.

From Disturbance to Reminder

As long as we attach to thoughts, we have created the story of a fixed identity for ourselves. We see ourselves as this, and not that. Something is included, something else is excluded.

Disturbance

So whenever something comes up that does not fit this fictional identity, we naturally tend to attach to resistance to it. We may see it as threatening, uncomfortable, Other, a disturbance. We see it as something to protect ourselves against.

After all, it threatens our fictional identity, so we put energy into building up and reinforcing our temporary identity, create stories of how we are certainly not that, and so on.

And the reason we experience a need to do this, is that this fictional identity is fragile. There is a knowing that it is not true, that it is fictional, created. We are trying for dear life to attach to it and believe in it, but cannot really convince ourselves to fully do so.

We feel we have to try to build it up and protect it – maybe because everyone else seems to do so, yet also see how fragile and temporary it is.

Reminder

As soon as these attachments to the whole network of thoughts creating our worldview and identity starts to fall away, this whole dynamic changes.

Now, when something shows up, it is welcomed. There is nothing to protect anymore. It is OK as it is. I am that too.

Whatever shows up goes from being seen as a disturbance and something to protect against to a reminder of what I am. I am that too, whatever it is.

Attachments to thoughts falling away

This often happens gradually, as attachments to various thoughts fall away. But it can also happen more suddenly.

And it only happens completely when there is a realization of selflessness, when the context of selflessness comes to the foreground.

When what is awakens to its own nature, with no I anywhere.

Disturbance as Invitation

A disturbance is always an invitation to explore something a little further, to bring something already true for us into awareness.

As I did a self-Breema exercise this morning, I noticed an impulse to get away.

And in exploring this impulse a little further, looking at what was alive – although not yet noticed – in my own present experience, I found that…

  • The impulse came from a slight discomfort.
  • The discomfort seemed to come from doing two things at once: a Self-Breema and engaging in thoughts about something else.
  • When I saw this, I made a small shift into being more present with the movements, finding a way to do it so I would want to do it for a long time. And in this, the discomfort and the impulse to get away dissolved. They were not needed as signposts anymore.

I also saw how easy it is to interpret the impulse in different ways.

  • I can see it as an invitation to explore why there is discomfort, and change the way I did the self-Breema (as I did). This is a movement into and through the discomfort, exploring what is behind it.
  • I can see it as an impulse to get up and do something else (which also would have resolved the discomfort). This is a movement away from the discomfort.
  • Or I can create more elaborate stories around it. For instance how self-Breemas are not for me. That there is something wrong with the self-Breemas themselves. Or that I am no good at self-Breemas (and lots of other things). This is yet another movement away from the discomfort, although one that itself creates a good deal of discomfort.

What I wanted to explore here is a very simple dynamic. Yet, it is obviously not quite clear to me right now since it came out in a very convoluted form – as the drafts below show…

As I did a self-Breema exercise this morning, I noticed that part of my attention was caught up in thoughts about a different topic, and I also noticed an impulse of wanting to get away and doing something else.

I was doing two things at once, self-Breema and engaging in thoughts, which gave rise to a discomfort. And this discomfort took the form of an impulse of wanting to get away.

Initially, I saw the impulse as telling me to get up and do something else. But looking into it further, I saw that the impulse was telling me that the way I was doing the self-Breema was uncomfortable.

The impulse told me to get away from the particular way I was doing it, which could take the form of doing something else, or

When I explored the impulse further, I saw that it was the way I was engaging in the exercise that I wanted to get away from. I was not present with it, I tried to do two things at once (self-Breema and exploring something through thoughts), and it was uncomfortable. Seeing this, I also saw the invitation in it to find a way to do the self-Breema that is comfortable – with whole body/whole mind. I made a little change in this direction, and now again enjoyed the self-Breema. I found a way to do it so I would want to do it for a long time.

So again, the impulse itself was completely innocent and also very accurate.

When it arises, I can interpret this impulse in different ways.

I can create a story about not wanting to do self-Breema right then, which may lead me to interrupt it and go and do something else. I can even create a story about not enjoying self-Breemas very much in general. Or that there is a flaw in the exercises themselves.

And I can also simply see that the impulse of wanting to get away is just that: an impulse of wanting to get away. Exploring this further, I see that what I really want to get away from in that situation was the way I am doing self-Breema.

An impulse arises, I take it as an invitation to explore what may be behind it – what is true for me in the present, and in doing this I see that the impulse itself is completely innocent and just a helpful guidepost into seeing what is true for me right now.

I am not in touch with what is true for me in the present, an apparent disturbance comes up, and this disturbance turns out to be a guidepost for discovering what is more deeply true for me in the present.

And sometimes we need a framework for discovering this, such as Process Work and the Byron Katie inquiries.