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distraction & presence

Updated: May 10, 2022




"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." —Viktor Frankl

Use these graphics for self-healing.


Start with the philosophy graphic.


We suffer when we compulsively attend to either the abstract or the real.


We're sitting in a meeting, but we can't stop thinking about what so-and-so said to us last night - we're trying to attend to the real, but we're getting pulled into the abstract.


Or we're trying to plan an upcoming trip, but we can't stop scrolling our phone - we're trying to attend to the abstract, but we're getting pulled into the real.


When our attention is forcefully divided like this, we feel unwhole, scattered, confused, torn. We feel like we don't have control over our attention or our time. We feel like we're doing multiple things poorly and no single thing well. Our very sense of self and identity can begin to fray, and, in extreme cases, unravel. We suffer. And because our attention is so scattered, we struggle to recognize our suffering's cause. Our suffering may compound & spiral until it becomes the dominant theme of our life.


We flip the script when we attend mindfully to the abstract or the real.


We're in the meeting. We feel the tug to think about what so-and-so said to us last night. Mindful of the situation, we recognize the tug as compulsion, and we focus our attention on the unfolding moment - we attend the meeting, and we allow the compulsive energy to run its course in our bodies.


We're planning the upcoming trip in our minds. We feel the tug to scroll our phones. Mindful of the situation, we recognize the tug as compulsion, and we focus our attention on the unfolding moment - we attend the mental planning session, and we allow the compulsive energy to run its course in our bodies.


The heart is a magical resource in this scenario. It has the unique ability to integrate the abstract & the real through the flow of feelings.


When we feel mindfully attend to the heart space, we are simultaneously aware of both (a) what's physically occurring here & now (the real) & (b) what's unfolding in our minds (the abstract). This is the flow state, this is being "in the zone." Perceiving, processing, deciding, & acting braid into a single fluid experience. We don't have to painstakingly process what's happening, nor must we effortfully weigh strategies & options. The heart performs these tasks naturally, one beat at a time. Mindfully attuned to the heart's ever-flowing signal, we experience outer reality & inner activity unfolding as a single happening. We recognize compulsions as they arise & allow the disordered compulsive energy to resolve itself in the harmonizing field of the open heart.


In other words - mindfully feeling the heart transforms life from toil to flow.


Now focus on the technique graphic. This is the 5-6 step technique we employ to promote mindful presence in real-time.


Step 1: Notice distractedness. Recognize distractedness occuring. The distractedness may be pulling you toward the abstract (mind) or the real (body, environment). Don't get too hung up on the distraction. Just recognize it as an active energy in the body.


Step 2: Honor the situation. Acknowledge your primary focus. If you're driving, say, aloud or silently, "I am driving." If you're in a work meeting, say silently , "I'm in a meeting." Having acknowledged your primary focus, honor your distraction. Say, silently or aloud, "I am feeling distracted."


optional Step 3: Bonus honoring. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into the distraction's nature. Describe the distraction in more detail, e.g.: "I am distracted by thoughts of a work project," or "I am distracted by something my partner said last night." Don't get hung up in the details or merits of the distraction. Just acknowledge its nature and feel it as energy in the body.


Step 4: Connect to the heart. Feel the heart & the space around it. Sense the heart's rhythm. Be gentle, & take your time. Feel free to acknowledge your heart connection, silently or aloud: "I am feeling my heart," or "I am connected to my heart."


Step 5: Cultivate mindfulness in the moment. Mindfulness is nothing complicated or fancy. It's a sense of calm presence, grounded & aware. The simplest ways to cultivate mindfulness are pausing, relaxing, & resting. You can also employ specific mindfulness techniques. If you're on the go, you can simply breathe & feel the body as you do so. The key is to draw energy away from distracting energy & toward present moment awareness of the body & environment.


Step 6: When time allows, practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices refine our ability to cultivate mindfulness in the moment. It's kind of like sports & strength training: the better our strength training, the more power we bring to our play. The more we practice mindfulness, the better we become at generating mindfulness in a pinch. The 3 primary mindfulness practices are: meditation, contemplation, & inquiry. I have a variety of meditation techniques you can use. For contemplation, I recommend Richard Rohr's approach. For inquiry, I recommend "The Work" by Byron Katie. Approach your mindfulness practice both as a means to future mindfulness & as an end unto itself. Generally, you'll emerge from mindfulness practices feeling more refreshed, centered, & grounded. And your mindfulness practices will serve you later when you're trying to cultivate mindfulness in a stressful situation.

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