Distraction < Mindfulness

Danger of DistractionIn a recent viral video clip, Louis CK hilariously and profoundly excoriates cellphones as a massive source of distraction from our true experience of life. Personally I love my cellphone.  And I love social media, and computers in general, and many other sources of distraction.  At the very same time, I recognize that these powerful technological tools potentially derail mindfulness, as the embody the very opposite of mindfulness, distraction: avoidance of our experience of this moment.

Mindfulness is the Opposite of Distraction

When we distract ourselves, we deliberately or semi-unconsciously split our awareness into pieces, diffuse the light of presence into multiple directions.  We dim our awareness of the present moment.  That is the opposite of mindfulness.  Mindfulness means turning the dimmer UP, turning up the lights on our experience so we can really see and hear and feel what is going on for us at that particular moment.  We often don’t care to do so.  We avoid our experience of life a great deal of the time.  This is only natural, since there is much unpleasantness to be avoided in our experience.  However, ironically, what we crave most turns out to be none other than fully experiencing our lives.

Distraction from Pain = Distraction from Joy

It’s awfully tempting, I find, to just keep moving from one distraction to another.  Recently I made a video on the topic of procrastination.  Besides singing and playing guitar (briefly and not well), in it, I talk about how I tend to procrastinate most when I have a task to do that I “dislike.”  By “disliking” the task I don’t mean that the task is not meaningful to me — the opposite, rather!  I find it quite meaningful, but that very meaningfulness generates anxiety, a set of thoughts and sensations I dislike.  So when I have a project that I want to finish, that’s exactly when I begin to distract myself with multiple social media, bouncing from email to facebook to twitter to … blogging … and many other sources of distraction!  We’ve got them in spades these days!  We can keep the distraction machine going as long as we care to do so.

Distraction can be Physically Dangerous

As we all know by now, texting or even talking on our cellphones while driving can pose dangers to ourselves and others.  But many other forms of distraction can pose physical dangers.  Simply indulging in fantasy while operating heavy machinery such as motor vehicles or other such technology can cost lives and limbs.  Less dangerous but more commonplace, we tend to cut ourselves and have other household accidents when we are daydreaming.  One might argue that avoiding household accidents offers a rather negative reason to practice mindfulness, but all things being equal, I’d rather NOT slice open my finger while cutting vegetables, as I’ve done in the past at times.

Distraction Is Not Sexy

On the other end of the hedonic spectrum, mindful sex is the best sex.  When we remain fully present in our bodies while connecting with another sexually, we experience far more satisfying and meaningful sexual relations.  Whether actually engaged in intercourse or just lovingly touching and kissing, being lost in thought will likely hamper our natural joy in being physically close and intimate with another human being.  On the other hand, the ability to set our thoughts aside for the time being, the very ability we cultivate in mindfulness practice, allows us to truly connect to the other person, making possible a far more tender and passionate interaction than would occur were we lost in thoughts of the past or future, or evaluations of the present moment.

Distraction Drains the Joy Away from Life

It’s hard to exaggerate how much damage distractibility can wreak on our lives.  By the same token, and more positively stated, it’s hard to exaggerate how much richer our lives can be when we are present and attuned, focused on what is occurring in the here-and-now, rather than what happened, could happen, or might have happened in the there-and-then.  Common sense tells us that the JUICE in life resides in the here-and-now.  A life of distractions tends to feel dry, dull, meaningless, and ever vulnerable to the promise of further “augmentation” through still more sources of distraction.  Another device, another lover, another drug, another fancy meal, another vacation we spend anxious about whether we’re getting “our money’s worth” or taking enough pictures to post on facebook and impress our friends, or “capture the moment” so that we have it later instead of being with it now.

Mindfulness Answers The Problem of Distraction

Mindfulness is the opposite of distraction.  Mindfulness means pulling our experience together, bringing our thoughts, feelings, sensations, sights and sounds into the same experiential space.  It is not about focusing, laser-like, on some mantra or even our breaths.  It is ultimately about pulling our life together, literally, on an experiential level, so that we may live wholly, so that we may be whole on a moment-to-moment basis.  There is no “true self” other than this being-whole-on-a-moment-to-moment basis.  This is the “true self” that you’re looking for, if you’re looking for a true self.  In all likelihood (especially if you read my blog), this is the satisfaction in life that you’re looking for.  Did that new car satisfy for long?  How about the new cellphone?  New boyfriend or girlfriend?  We crave novelty, stimulation, distraction.  But what we really want surrounds us at all times.   We have only to pay attention.  We have only to practice mindfulness, to solve the problem of distraction, one moment at a time.

When do you distract yourself?

What is it like when you lay aside distractions and be as present as you can?

A Few Road Safety Group Resources:

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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