How annoying are life’s distractions! I am sitting and having a conversation with a good friend, and a tiny little fly comes to buzz by my ear, then my eye, then my nose. I become so engrossed in swatting the little sucker away, that I lose my train of thought – the conversation gets interrupted. And then there are bigger life distractions, which can rock my path completely – losing a job, ending a relationship, the death of a loved one, illness, and war. In the face of tragedy it is nearly impossible to just simply go on. And yet, we manage. An Israeli friend recently remarked, “It’s crazy how quickly we get used to living in war.” The human system is resilient beyond imagination – to its benefit, and at times, to its detriment.
In meditation, I choose an anchor to rest my attention. The breath is a common one. I attend to the breath and very quickly, my thoughts barge in – and the connection with the breath is lost. Suddenly, a bird chirps outside, or a car alarm goes off outside, or that fly buzzes back – and the mind snaps back away from being lost in thought to the present moment. Oh yeah! Focus on the breath. I may find the bird, alarm, or fly annoying, though it has aided me in getting back on track with my focus. Gratitude for the distraction blossoms, as I recommit awareness to breath.
Without diminishing the pain of life’s tragedies, they do have the ability to force us back into the present moment. As a counseling student of mine taught in her final integration project, a loss (or any distraction) can act as a rough tumble in a washing machine. Distractions cause us to ask the hard questions, “Am I living life the way that I want to?” “Where am I going?” “Have I lost my direction?” Our minds are meaning making machines, and in time, and in their own time, they will find answers to these questions. Piece by piece, as Viktor Frankl said, “Tragedy turns to triumph – the greatest human achievement.” We may never embrace life’s distraction with love, yet we can recognize their transformative potential, and with great care allow gratitude to enter and soften their harshness.