Handling distractions

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Contemplating nature is a good rest from self-interest.  Photo by Johann Siemens on Unsplash

A common trait I’ve seen in the anxious, is the tendency to lose the thread of what one is doing in order to suddenly focus on something else.

It is as though the mind is addicted to floating onto new ground.  There you are, sitting contemplating the trees, when a worry about family drifts into your head.  You dwell on that for a while, and then suddenly a more particular worry arrives, with an accompanying play-like scene which your mind wants you to play in your head.  So you play that, and before you know it you are three removes from your contemplation of the tree.

SELF-INTEREST

Difficult as it may be for us to admit, it’s our self-interest that dominates us in this way.  Usually, the direction of distraction is away from other-focused stuff, and towards us-focused stuff.  We seem obsessed with what is going to happen to us; how our resources are going to be affected; what is going to cause us pain or pleasure in the future.

Compared with all the ‘me’ stuff, ‘other’ stuff seems unimportant.  That’s why the news is full of stories local to our own country and culture.  The writers have realised that we find it hard to see things from other points of view, and to quietly contemplate other cultures, other perspectives, except as a kind of escapism.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, try to let your mind settle on something other than you.

When you catch yourself fearfully worrying on your own behalf, give yourself a rest from that.

Contemplate something else – a piece of nature, the actions and movements of other beings, maybe some art.  Stay with it.  Every time your mind wanders back on to your own life, gently lead it back to other-focus.

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SUMMARY

When we are anxious, we are very vulnerable to becoming distracted on to unnecessary fears for ourselves and those near to us.

This is really only self-interest.  If we were really universally compassionate, we would look more widely.

Just for today, watch for this tendency, and try to guide your mind towards the contemplation of things other than your self.  You may find that your self survives perfectly well without your attentions.  And if your self disappears, leaving you happy, then so be it.

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