[Monday Message] The Habit of Distraction

It is part of the human condition to fall victim to the habit of distraction. It is part of spiritual evolution to guard against that.

A Tibetan story tells of a meditation student who, while meditating in his room, believed he saw a spider descending in front of him. Each day the menacing creature returned, growing larger and larger each time. So frightened was the student, that he went to his teacher to report his dilemma. He said he planned to place a knife in his lap during meditation, so when the spider appeared he would kill it. The teacher advised him against this plan. Instead, he suggested, bring a piece of chalk to meditation, and when the spider appeared, mark an “X” on its belly. Then report back.

The student returned to his meditation. When the spider again appeared, he resisted the urge to attack it, and instead did just what the master suggested. When he later reported back to the master, the teacher told him to lift up his shirt and look at his own belly. There was the “X”.

I have a tattoo on my right wrist that includes a spider with a white cross on its belly. Lest you think I don’t need to remind myself to be constantly vigilant against distraction.

Allowing yourself to be distracted can be a very unconscious thing, an unthinking habit, which makes it all the more insidious. There are so many things we can be distracted by – social media, broadcast media, drama, the squirrels and weasels in our own heads… Anything but our own growth and evolution. Just sitting down to write this post took an amazing amount of willpower. And that’s the thing. You need willpower to break a habit. To create a habit or a memory groove, you need to repeat something at least 7 times in rapid succession. To set up a habit that might require willpower, doing the thing every day for 14-21 days is the way to go. So practice not allowing yourself to be distracted every day for at least 2 weeks; if you miss a day, start your count over. That doesn’t mean you can’t be distracted. Just practice using your willpower to avoid it as much as you can. It’s not the quality of the practice, it’s the repetition and regularity.

Distraction will keep you from achieving your goals. Here’s a writing exercise to help you see how this works in your own life:

  • Where do you allow yourself to be pulled away from your goals?
  • What are the habits in your life that keep you from becoming more educated, more spiritual, more skilled?
  • Do you even realize when those things pull you away?
  • How long does it take you to exert appropriate will and bring yourself back onto your path?
  • How much can you be conscious of this issue in your life?
  • Only when you can be vigilant with yourself will you be able to stay on your path and move toward your goals.

    This post is part of a new series called Monday Message, based on that day’s reflection from 365 Days to Enlightenment (authorized versions are currently out of print, working on a new edition). Check back next Monday for another one! You can also sign up for the Daily Message on my mailing list if you’d like to receive a new reflection every day. I also often post them to Instagram and Twitter, if either of those is a medium you enjoy.

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