Calm descends as you slowly breathe deeply in and out. Eyes closed, you feel the peace of meditation begin to wash over your thoughts.
Darn, I forgot to buy chicken for dinner! A distracting inner voice elbows its way rudely past the peace of meditation. Wait! I am supposed to be clearing my thoughts for meditation. Chicken is not involved. You manage to subdue the intruding thought and restore your focus; but the next minute another distraction pops up to the surface of your consciousness. Ouch, I should have put a mat down…this floor is too hard. As many of us know, dealing with distractions in meditation can pose a significant challenge to accessing the full benefits of this practice.
Meditation has been shown throughout history to have numerous health benefits to the mind, body, and spirit. A centering of the self and connection to one’s inner calm are some of the main principles in the practice of meditation. Meditating can allow you to regain focus and practice self-care by pressing the metaphorical “reset button” in a busy, stressful life. Tuning in to your inner world and cultivating a sense of inner peace can help you deal with everyday stresses more calmly, as well as build a generally healthier frame of mind.
Distractions during meditation can be either external or internal distractions. A ringing phone, a crying child, or an intruding thought can all shift your focus away from effective meditation; and can prevent you from reaching a meditative state or maintaining calm. Each time a distraction interrupts your meditation, returning to a meditative mindset after the distraction has passed can prove to be quite difficult. Once the mind has been distracted, refocusing can be much harder than beginning the meditation in the first place.
Frustration can build with distractions, since a person often may feel that the meditation exercise was a failure due to the distractions. This frustration can make it difficult to persevere through the potential distractions during meditation, and can prevent a person from maintaining the inner calm necessary in meditation. In short, distractions both external and internal can be a notable roadblock to meditation, and learning to effectively deal with distractions during meditation is a crucial aspect of this practice.
External distractions are generally easier to avoid than internal distractions. You can set your schedule, location, and surroundings up for technical success before beginning meditation, in order to minimize potential external distractions. For example, make sure to turn your phone completely off and meditate in a quiet, secluded area away from possible sources of interruption. If you have children and are meditating at home, make sure that a responsible adult is supervising them and preventing them from distracting you during your meditation. Ensure that your surroundings and setup are conducive to meditating, such as wearing comfortable clothing, sitting in a neutral position, adjusting the ambient temperature, etc. Avoiding external distractions during meditation is completely possible with enough advance planning and careful setup.
Internal distractions are much more difficult to handle during meditation. Intruding thoughts, overwhelming feelings, etc. are all examples of internal distractions that can present themselves suddenly during a meditation session and make focusing very challenging. Unfortunately, internal distractions are much harder to preempt than external distractions, since you never know when a thought will suddenly arise or a feeling will make its way to the surface as you meditate. Therefore, learning to deal with internal distractions on the go is crucial to effective meditation.
The first concept to keep in mind when learning how to handle internal distractions is that this is a natural part of meditation. Don’t be frustrated by the fact that you have distractions; this is a completely normal challenge that people who practice meditation must learn to handle. It is not a sign that your attempts to meditate have failed, or that your meditation session is worthless if a distracting thought intrudes. On the contrary, learning to handle each internal distraction as it comes is an inherent part of meditation; and learning to refocus the mind each time strengthens our ability to control and center our thoughts.
When an interrupting thought or feeling floats to the front of your mind’s eye, don’t fight it. Thoughts are stubborn – trying to force a thought to leave will only make it dig its heels in and stay for longer. Therefore, when a thought distracts you during meditation, simply watch the thought happen. Let it come and go like a wave, without fighting it or concentrating on it in any way. The natural pattern of thoughts is that they come and go relatively quickly. By refraining from focusing on the thought and simply letting it leave in a neutral fashion, you allow your mind to naturally recalibrate to the meditative state.
Sometimes feelings can also suddenly arise during meditation. This is often the case when these feelings have been suppressed for a while; as soon as your mind lets its guard down and relaxes these feelings can surface. When this occurs, the same strategy can be employed. Just watch the feeling and let it drift through your mind until it leaves. Again, fighting the feeling or attempting to forcibly reset your meditative mindset can be counterproductive and can make it harder to regain your focus afterwards.
Maintaining calm when dealing with distractions and avoiding frustration is essential in learning to effectively practice meditation. In general, distracting thoughts or feelings is something that we all experience during meditation; and it is important to remember that distractions are not a sign of a failed meditation. Setting up the situation for technical success is a good way to avoid external distractions; and learning to practice a neutral approach towards internal distractions is an effective method of restoring focus.
Despite the challenges involved with handling various potential distractions, meditation remains an invaluable tool in developing an inner stability and calm that can radiate to many different areas of life. The mind, body, and spirit can all benefit greatly from the art of meditation.