We perennially distract ourselves most of the time, because we are afraid to be alone with our mind. It’s why prisoners are kept in solitary confinement (as punishment), because then, there’s nothing to distract them with. Alone in the dark, there is only their mind. They are forced to face what’s inside, which can be downright frightening. But, they are hardly alone in having this experience. I’ve heard from friends who attended meditation retreats how some of their fellow participants felt discomfort at some point so much so that they quit because they couldn’t deal with with what they saw inside.
While the prisoners were forced to be in those situations, where they had little choice but to deal with their minds, we distract ourselves in our daily lives just enough to not have to face ourselves, much less deal with what’s inside. The truth is few of us have given ourselves the chance to truly know ourselves, much less to live our true selves.
How we distract ourselves
We distract ourselves through people, places, and things.
How many of us refuse to spend time alone and are always seeking the company of others? We’ll do anything to not be alone (particularly during the Holidays) even if that means being with others who we may not want to be with, ideally speaking. We don’t mind being with them if it means we don’t have to be alone.
We seek relationships because we think it will help us fill that inner void in our lives. We forget no one who doesn’t feel enough by themselves will ever feel enough with another being. When we feel complete by ourselves, we don’t need others, but this isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek company. What matters is our intention behind it.
We may take vacations to faraway exotic places (to escape from work, let’s say), but what we fail to realize the only true vacation we need is from our mind. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t take vacations, but what matters is the intention behind it.
We may distract ourselves by getting things, which makes us feel good if only for a short while before the novelty fades away, but we never learn. We buy feelings, not things.
We may even prefer spending time with others over ourselves. With others, we can escape our everyday realities to talk about worldly things, but with ourselves, we need to face our realities and fears (if we can even manage to sit alone for a while without doing anything), which makes us uncomfortable, so we naturally avoid it. This could also be the reason why taking a meditation retreat scares people, because they are afraid to think about what they might find within (by depriving themselves of any external stimuli). It’s like when you stop taking drugs or give up smoking or drinking cold turkey — you experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. The problem is we don’t want to go through the worst part to reach that better state.
When was the last time you mowed your lawn, do your dishes, or commuted/drove without listening to music/book/podcast? The thing is we will do anything to keep ourselves distracted, so we don’t have to be alone with ourselves. Even if we are able to do those things without any passive consumption, we’ll still be lost in our thoughts while doing those activities and hence lose out on the moment in front of us.
We can’t fathom having our meals without reading, listening, or watching something. When was the last time you had a meal without consuming any media? Never mind the last time you were alone sitting quietly doing nothing for a few minutes. Make no mistake. We are afraid of ourselves. We’d rather be stimulated by electricity than sit quietly.
We distract ourselves by way of constantly seeking dopamine hits. For instance, we are constantly checking for incoming messages (including email) all of the time. Imagine if you checked your physical mailbox more than once a day. You won’t.
We keep ourselves distracted long enough until we find the next (external) thing to motivate us. We are constantly looking forward to things in future and ergo, never end up living fully in the moment.
We have fragmented our attention spans so much that we don’t have the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes (if that), much less for longer. Its unhealthy, unsustainable, and it only leads to exhaustion sooner or later.
We distract ourselves with experiences in the outer world hoping it would solve our inner problems, even as we kid ourselves. We have somehow got so hooked on it (not unlike a drug addict) that we’ll do anything to distract ourselves enough that we don’t have to look inside.
We mistakenly think it’s easier to not have to think about that stuff inside, but we only keep delaying the inevitable. It’s akin to a virus running in the background. We can live in denial as much as we want, and even as we are doing it, it constantly weighs on us, never mind that it affects our ability to be in the here and now.
Why we distract ourselves
We are constantly seeking stimulation outside because we are not okay inside at varying levels. Moreover, we somehow think it’s okay to not be okay. It’s not. It isn’t normal to not be okay as long as you’re doing something about it (and you better, lest it get the better of you). The fact is there isn’t a single being who didn’t commit suicide whose mind didn’t tell them to. Make no mistake.
The thing is unless you’re okay in there, you can never be okay with the world outside. And, when you’re okay in there, you don’t need the world to be okay. That’s true freedom. Not only is it attainable, but it should be our natural state all the time.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the things in life, far from it, but thinking that to be the reason for our happiness is misguided at best.
As I’ve shared before, we have accumulated stuff in our mind and heart over our lifetime and we mistakenly believe it would be easier to not have to deal with that stuff by pushing it back down hoping it wouldn’t return, but it always will (and that’s a good thing, believe it or not).
Effects of distraction
When we are constantly stimulated by the outside, it can seem alien to be on the other side, where we are acting with intention and living a proactive life. But, the thing is if/when you get to the other side where you do things mindfully, being constantly stimulated and doing things reactively can seem equally alien (if not more). At some level, it never feels right inside and yet we never quite heed to it.
The thing is we were not designed to live this way. It’s not doing us any good. We don’t know what its like to live with intention because we are so quick to make choices that we don’t give ourselves the time to think things through because we know if we do, we would have to face ourselves and we’ll do anything to avoid that feeling. We’ll do anything to stay stimulated because we are hooked.
We (as in our Higher Self) are so entangled with our hearts and minds that we don’t even know what its like to not get entangled, much less distance ourselves. By creating a fortress in our mind, we have separated ourselves from the One. We are depriving ourselves of our natural (higher) states of being, which is our birthright. We don’t even know what its like to live with our true self, much less express it with others in the form of love, peace, happiness, joy, and harmony. Once we have love and joy emanating from inside, we wouldn’t even know what loneliness or unhappiness is, for instance.
How to stop distracting ourselves
Seek out silence in your everyday life. Give yourself the space to simply be. Learn the art of doing nothing. Make boredom your friend. Spend some time in solitude every day. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Give yourself 30 minutes to do this practice, 15 minutes in the morning and evening. Do this at the same time every day.
Nothing makes me feel weaker than when I don’t do things with intention. It could mean not using my time well. It could also mean doing things impulsively or reactively without thinking something through. Unsurprisingly, these are the choices I’ve detested in the past. One example that comes to mind is binging on YouTube videos late into the night. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching them during that time, it has always felt less than great after the fact. I suspect I’m hardly alone in making these choices. This is another instance of how we don’t learn from things that make us feel less than great.
Slowing down can go a long way towards helping you live a more intentional life. Use the power of pause to give yourself the time to make a proactive choice. Ask yourself if what you’re about to do is how you want to use your attention? When you slow down to ask yourself, you’ll almost always make a decision that you’ll be happy with, looking back.
It’s only when you give yourself the space to simply be, can you make way to simply be with your Self. Practice mindfulness as a way of life in that it’s not something you do, but it’s who you are. It’s one of the ways of acting with intention.
As a result of making space for yourself, there’s stuff inside of you that will naturally surface over time (if you let it) because it wants to be out. The little things that disturb you will likely surface (from your heart and mind) before the bigger things. All you have to do is when it shows up, simply lean back and let it pass through without challenging it.
Stop adding more stuff inside by surrendering to Reality. Accepting the way life unfolds is a huge part of surrender. Align your will with how life unfolds. Trust the path it will take you on. Trust that life has your best interest at heart (because it does).
Embrace your past no matter how difficult it has been for you. Be grateful for it because no one else has experienced life quite the way you have. It’s only when you accept your past can you be ready to experience the present. Otherwise, you end up living in a distorted sense of reality that is colored through your past preferences which makes it difficult for you to experience (objective) Reality. Every time your mind keeps bringing up instances of your (difficult) past in your head, simply say, thank you. That’s the only way it’ll stop (release).
Until we keep distracting ourselves, we’ll forever be enslaved and ergo, we’ll never have the space to know what’s it like to be truly free, much less live that way. It’s only when we stop distracting ourselves can we hope to face the stuff inside, so we can give ourselves a chance of letting it all go at some point. It’s only when this happens can we rise higher and hope to live from our true Self one day (but only if we start now). It’s only then we can be truly free to express this love and joy with others.