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Mindful : December 2015
noticed a little more patience, or a shift in perspective on a longtime challenge. A few of the little “appetiz- ers” that a fledgling mindfulness prac- tice can offer up to keep you coming back to the cushion, even when it isn’t easy. Like, when you feel the mag- netic pull of a warm bed at your early morning meditation time. You begin to waver and doubt creeps in. Or you “hit the wall” and question yourself, mindfulness, and everything that seemed so clear when you started. Questions arise. Dark clouds of doubt periodically obscure the bright light that mindful clarity promises. You find that other things seem just a bit more important than your regular formal practice. Boredom arises and time on the cushion begins to feel like it will never end. Whatever the form, skepticism, distraction, boredom, or outright disdain will inevitably enter into the practice. Referred to as the “hindrances” of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt, they are to be con- sidered phenomena like any other. To be seen as leaves on a stream or clouds on the horizon. And sometimes we can do that. But sometimes we need a little help. Dealing with distraction “I sit down to meditate with good intentions, and then I hear music from my neighbor’s apartment, or my cell phone vibrating, or my leg starts hurting, and I can’t meditate because of all these distractions. I need to find a quieter place to practice or somehow shut out all these sounds and thoughts so I can actually focus on my breath.” Consider the possibility that noth- ing is a distraction in the practice of mindfulness. What I mean is that no thing (no sound, thought, sensa- tion, smell, whatever) is inherently a distraction in and of itself. They are simply phenomena that arise in meditation. So where does distraction come in? Well, here’s where you feature promi- nently. When that annoying sound your roommate makes as she butters her toast becomes your own obsession, you have made toast-buttering into a distraction. When you chase the tin- gling in your right knee with an inner struggle about how to stop it before amputation is necessary, you have left your breath and entered the distrac- tion zone. The liberation of mindfulness is that we can cultivate a different relationship with these co-dependent attention suckers. We can come to simply note their arising in our awareness and remain steadily aware of the breath. It is only when we invest our energy—attention, thinking, analysis, struggle, etc.—in these phenomena that they become distractions. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out. The next time you meditate, see if you can take this stance of “No Distractions” and observe what hap- pens when things arise. You know they will. After all, even when we are feeling some degree of success at keeping our attention on the breath, other stuff is arising right? The hum of traffic outside, the touch of clothing on the skin, the memory of Aunt Peg’s tuna salad. It all flows by and some- times we aren’t distracted by it. There is an awareness that it’s present, but we can stay on task too. A little less color, a little more play-by-play Our minds could be said to be the “sportscasters” of our direct experi- ence. What happens to us and around us and within us just happens. And then our minds try to make something meaningful of those experiences. It’s like the play-by-play guy and the color commentator in a game of football. For example, you are sitting and breathing, minding your own busi- ness and riding the flow of the breath in and out. Woohoo! You just man- aged to be mindful of one whole breath! “I did it!” you say to yourself. “I usually have more trouble than this! I think I’m getting better at meditating,” you note with no small amount of satisfaction. And that’s when your trouble began. The play-by-play commenta- tor reported the in-breath, the belly movement, the out-breath, all with an air of authenticity and trustworthi- Steve Hickman is founder and director of the University of California at San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor in the Psychiatry and Family & Preventive Medicine Departments. 74 mindful December 2015 practices insight