Day 4: How to Deal with Distractions

Running Time: 5:50

Most of us don’t meditate under ideal conditions. We have to contend with traffic noise, the neighbour’s dog barking, roommates, and so on. While meditating, distractions are our constant companions.

So, how do you handle distractions while meditating?

This is such a great question because hidden in the answer is the key to how to deal with pretty much any challenge you face, both in meditation and in your life.

Now, distractions can come in many different forms:
They can be loud or irritating sounds, uncomfortable physical sensations, or even unusual visual, auditory or kinaesthetic phenomena that can sometimes occur as a result of your meditation practice.

Whatever the source, what’s a good way to work with these things while meditating?

Before I can answer that, I need to walk you through an exploration of what distractions really are. Once you understand that, then I can show you how you can transform them from something that’s preventing you from meditating, to something that can really deepen your practice.

Distractions are Just Sensations

So, what are distractions, really? Well, it can be helpful to take the perspective that there is actually no such thing as a “distraction” – there are only sensations: physical sensations, sounds, sights, tastes, smells and, although it may seem a little strange at first, I’m also going to include thoughts.

So that’s the first thing you need to understand. Distractions are just sensations.

The word “distraction” and “annoying” and “irritating” and whatever else you want to call it, those are just words. Those are concepts. They don’t really exist, in the objective sense. All these words are actually pointing to the underlying sensations.

It’s the sensations we want to focus on during meditation, not the concepts.

Ok, that’s the theory. Now let’s get practical.

How to Deal with Distractions During Meditation

If there is a sensation that begins to take your attention away from your chosen meditation object, such as a loud sound, then switch your focus to that sensation, instead of trying to ‘ignore’ it. Use that new sensation as the object of your meditation and carefully observe it.

I’ll illustrate what I mean with an example and then we’ll practice it together.

A few years ago, for a period of about 8 months, there were two houses being built across the street from where I live.
It seemed as though the people working on the houses knew exactly when I was going to meditate, because as soon as I started to “get into it”, the noise would begin.

Skill saws, nail guns, concrete trucks, people shouting at each other. For those 8 months, I focused my attention on the sounds of construction. More specifically, I focused on the qualities of the sounds:
their volume, pitch, duration, and other sensations that arose in association with them.

So, when the cement truck rumbled down my street, I noticed the rumbling had a deep vibrational quality that I felt in my abdomen and solar plexus area. It was followed by quick flashes of crude mental images of trucks, feelings of irritation, thoughts of “Why are they doing this to me.”

Now, it’s really important that when you are observing these sensations, you make your best effort to do so in a totally neutral way. They are just sensations. They come and go all on their own.

All you need to do is observe them with a curious “cool, that is so neat” kind of attitude, and let them do their thing. Let each moment be a new discovery.

Even the feelings of irritation are just sensations, so treat them in exactly the same way, like a kid who has never seen anything like that before, “Wow! Cool! Irritation!” Just let it arise and pass away. No need to change anything or push it away.

You get the idea.

Ok, enough talking. Let’s try this out together for a minute.

Meditation Exercise (see Video)

So, how was that? Notice anything interesting? Feel free to replay that minute as much as you like and practice it. It will really help you change your relationship with distractions.

In fact, if you spend an entire 15 minutes doing this, you will get a lot out of the practice!

Going Deeper

But, this is only the tip of the iceberg. You can do this with any sensation, even when you’re not meditating.
Itchiness, restlessness, pain, nausea, happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety, contentment, sleepiness, wakefulness,
even the sense that you are somehow separate from what you are observing.

Hmmm.

Imagine what that would be like. How do you think that might transform your relationship to things like stress, or anger, or anxiety, especially if you practiced it every day?

That’s it for this video. I hoped you enjoyed watching it and learned some useful strategies for your next meditation practice. Also, I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below and tell me how you think approaching distractions in this way will change your practice and how you view distractions during daily life.