Anyone who has meditated knows that over and over again we direct our minds toward the sensations of the breath, toward the construction of goodness, or toward some other object of meditation, and again and again we are distracted by some random train of thought. .
Distractions are seductive, but they make us unhappy
Our thoughts are strangely seductive. And yet they seldom make us happy. In fact, research shows that distracted thinking is a source of suffering. We are much happier when we look forward to our experience.
In fact, the Buddha classified our distracted thoughts into five categories: longing for pleasurable experiences, ill-will, worry, avoidance, and self-doubt. All five obstacles, as they are called, cause unhappiness.
So why are we so drawn to doing something that makes us unhappy?
Why are we so attracted to distraction?
Early Buddhist teachings speak of a series of “cognitive distortions” (vipallasas), one of which is to see things that cause suffering as sources of happiness. And that’s what’s happening here. The mind assumes that if we yearn for pleasure, pleasure will pass away, that if we hate what we don’t like, it will disappear, that if we care about things, it will fix them, that if we avoid the things we don’t like. I don’t like them, they leave, and if we doubt ourselves and get miserable, someone will come and tell us that everything is fine.
Thus, on a very deep level, we are convinced that distraction is where happiness lies. Even if it is not.
Being aware of the body is the path to happiness
Where happiness lies is in mindfulness — mindfulness of the physical sensations of the body, feelings, thoughts, and how all of these things affect each other in a way that contributes to or harms our well-being.
Simply observing the breath and other sensations of the body, patiently returning to it again and again when it distracts us, brings peace. This is the basis of meditation.
It is in the body that peace lies. That is where we find happiness.
A practice to recover the mind
So, in practice, I suggest the following.
First, let your eyes be soft. Let the muscles around your eyes relax. Let your eyes focus gently.
Then begin to connect with the sensations of the body, feeling the movements of the breath like gentle waves sweeping the body.
As distractions arise, and you begin to draw on us, see if you can get the feeling that distracting thoughts are in one direction and the body in another.
With each exhalation, remember that the sensations of the body are where you want your attention to be, saying something like this:
- That [the body] it is where happiness lies.
- This is where peace lies.
- This is where patience lies.
- This is where the joy lies.
- This is where the calm lies.
- This is where the ease lies.
- This is where security lies.
- This is where the trust lies.
- This is where the satisfaction lies.
- This is where love lies.
- This is where the awakening lies.
As each breath goes down, say one of the above sentences or something similar. You can create your own sentences. You can repeat sentences, but see if you can mix them up a bit so that the practice doesn’t become mechanical.
How does this work?
Essentially, all positive qualities are supported by body-rooted consciousness, so you can let various qualities come to mind and remind you that they will arise through body awareness.
Let the words accompany the breath, reinforcing your intention to consciously notice and appreciate the body.
In the short term, repeated reminders to observe the body will help keep the mind on track. There are fewer opportunities for distraction to arise and take over your mind.
In the long run, you may begin to realize that the body, rather than the distractions, is at home. This is where growth comes in. This is where you want to keep your focus. That’s where you want to be. And your attention will naturally gravitate to it.
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