Keep getting distracted?

treesEveryone gets distracted during meditation — even people who’ve been meditating for years. You’re in good company.

The first stage in creating a beautiful garden is to realize how many weeds there are to be cleared up. If you feel a bit daunted by the sheer volume of trivia that your mind seems capable of creating then it’s good to remember that you need to know it’s there before you can do anything about it. Also bear in mind that dealing with it will bring you happiness.

It’s as if you’ve just inherited a beautiful garden, which is full of weeds. You can’t just pretend that the weeds aren’t there — you have to do something about it. With a real garden you could always just get rid of it or hire someone to look after it. With your mind you don’t have that luxury. Leave it alone and it will just get worse. The best thing to do is get started as soon as possible on clearing those mind-weeds.

If you ever feel frustration with your distractions, then remember that when you realize you’ve been distracted in meditation you have a choice — you can choose to exercise patience and gentleness with yourself. Getting mad or getting despondent will only make things worse. It’s a bit like kicking the dandelions because you’re annoyed with them; all you’re doing is spreading the seeds even further.

So chill, and patiently continue working at clearing the weeds from your wild mind.

The moment that you realize you’ve been distracted is actually a very valuable one. This is the point at which our natural tendency may be to get annoyed, or despondent, or frustrated. But it’s also an opportunity for us to practice patience, and to be accepting of imperfection, and to be kind to ourselves. And it’s bringing those qualities into being that’s as important, in the long run, as returning to the object of the meditation practice.

It can be reassuring as well to know that there are tools that help us reduce the level of distraction we experience. Simply returning our attention to the breath every time we realize the mind has wandered is very effective in the long term. Counting the breaths is another way to bring more stability to the mind in meditation. We’re not helpless. In fact we have all we need in order to calm the mind. We just need to keep making a gentle effort.

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19 Comments. Leave new

how much of a distraction warrents starting the count over? I’ll have many thoughts pop up of varying degrees of intensity but I don’t necessarily lose track of the count.

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Hi Rob,

If you are staying with the breath to some extent and maintaining continuity with the counting then you don’t need to start over again.

Your thoughts will slow down in time, but you might find it useful to do what’s called in vipassana “noting.” In noting you make a brief mental, well, note of what’s going on. So if you’re worrying you can say “worrying, worrying” or you can simply note “thinking, thinking.”

Another useful thing is to think “I wonder what I’m going to think about next?” and then watch what happens. Generally you’ll find that you become more attentive to the background mental silence in which your thoughts manifest, and this can encourage yet greater contact with that silence.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Greetings, Bodhipaksa:
I have just started my meditation practice. I’m an extremely type-A person who has a lot of trouble relaxing in general. It could be that meditation is the only relaxation I get outside of sleeping, and as I meditate, I continue to yawn. And not once or twice….continually, for the entire time. Then my eyes start to tear up. I’m wondering if you have heard of it and have any other suggestion other than to acknowledge and then move on without judgement?
Thank you,
Ely

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Hi Ely,

I’m not sure what’s going on with the eyes tearing up. Do you have any particular emotions happening at that time?

But the sleepiness — well, as you’ve probably surmised, when you don’t give yourself opportunity to relax you’re going to exhaust yourself, and when you’re exhausted and you close your eyes you’ll feel sleepy. The fundamental thing, I think, would be to pause more during the day, even if it’s just to take a three-minute breathing space. Doing that several times a day would help slow your mind down. The only thing more fundamental than that would be to get more sleep at night or to take a nap, which is something not enough people do.

Oddly, perhaps, I think meditating in the morning would be most likely to slow you down during the day.

There may be posture issues as well. Any slumping, or even just having the chin tucked in a little too much, is going to exacerbate any tiredness.

And lastly, when you’re tired, pay more attention to the sensations of the breath high up in the body — the sensations in the upper chest, or even in the head. And pay more attention to the in-breath by saying “in” as you inhale or by counting just before each in-breath.

I’ll be interested to hear how you get on. Please do feel free to give me a progress report.

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Good morning Bodhipaksa. I have found your website to be an invaluable resource in my Buddhism and meditation journey. I would be what they say is “just entering the stream.” I am encountering a road block in my my meditation practice. Maybe this sounds silly, but when I am meditating, I am now distracted by thoughts of whether or not I am going to have a successful session. In the back of my mind, I am turning over these thoughts and worrying myself about it. I am now feeling stress about meditation! I am finding that I am pressuring myself to move forward rather than living in each moment and breath. I suppose that is a constant theme with the rest of my life as well. Meditation is getting in the way of meditation. Any advice??

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Hi, Meghan.

Thanks for your kind words.

Actually, “entering the stream” refers to the first stages of enlightenment, but I know what you mean.

I’d suggest paying a bit more attention to where you are, and a bit less to where you want to go. Here are a few resources that you might find helpful: one by me on appreciation, and another on experiencing the breathing more fully, and one by Rick Hanson, again on appreciation.

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Hi Bodhipaksa
Like Meghan I am a beginner and looking for the way and like her I have managed to (almost) stress myself out of meditation.
But I consider the outcome to be a (small) victory of incipient mindfulness and am actually rather happy with myself.
If I say that it took me 2,5 years of DAILY stretching exercises to touch my toes you will understand that position is a very big issue for me.
I found myself worrying that if I get used to meditating in a chair (the only pain-free option so far), I will not be able to meditate everywhere in every condition, which is particularly important as I am going on a five-week trip where chairs will not be in abundance.
Of course this only worsened the problem. Until I realized what I was doing, told myself to meet that bridge when it comes up (who knows? I might get more supple!) and recovered enough clarity to carry on practicing – incidentally following your very clear and very welcome instructions.
So, Megan, if you’re still follwing: distraction has many faces, don’t stop at the first one.
Greetings to everyone.

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This website is Awesome :)

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Sincere seeker
May 31, 2013 6:35 am

I have only started to meditate . Your website is very helpful. My question is relatd to the stages 1234. Do we pass through all stages in one sitting each day or we move through them sequentially as meditation makes progresss over months?
Also quite alot of times I am not aware of things in day to day to day lifebut just drift with time but have to make myself aware consiously. So is bare awareness or noting used in the latter or the former drifting mode?
Also I have aproblem with ruminating about past mistakes which I find the most disturbing. I momentarily can let it go but it comes back again on a daily basis with a vengeance. Any suggestions??

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There’s no harm in taking your time to explore the practice, but most people will go through all four stages in one sit, each day.

I think active self-forgiveness is essential for the kind of recurring embarrassment you’re talking about. When the memory comes up, notice the unpleasant sensations in your body, and send them lovingkindness: “May you be well; may you be free from suffering.”

I’m afraid I didn’t understand what you were asking in the middle part…

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Sincere seeker
June 4, 2013 6:16 am

Sorry for not making clear- I meant as sometimes I only realised I am sucked into mental fabrication/ day dream when I am really deep into it. And then it takes some voluntarily directed effort to be mindful of it & work my way out of it. Is it possible to become aware of those very early on before they get a grip on you & how. This is more of a problem in day to day life.

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Thanks for the clarification.

I’ve been meditating for 30 years, and I still get sucked into daydreams. The quality of my daydreams has improved, however, and that’s no small thing; much of our distractedness causes us unhappiness because it’s based on ill will, anxiety, etc., and it’s good to do less of that crappy thinking. And I do notice in meditation that I catch my distractions earlier, so that they often don’t take a hold of the mind at all, but are just thoughts that arise into a mindful awareness.

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I’ve been mediating for the months now and my eyes are a distraction. They focus, get blurry, refocus, and then begin to play tricks of perception. The pattern on the rug begins to shift.

I will close my eyes to focus on my breathing but then quickly daydream. So opening my eyes is more helpful. I do the 1/3rd opening of my eyes but then my focus is on the stain of my eyelids. Any suggestions on how to move past this?

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I very rarely meditate with my eyes open. I’d suggest that if you practice having your eyes closed during meditation you’ll find that you adapt and become less prone to daydreams.

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Dear Bodhipaksa,

Thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom and knowledge with all of us. And being compassionate towards us beginning meditators too. Although I do not use your website for meditating, i do read it and especially read all the question answers. They help when I am in trouble/confusion and am seeking some sort of clarification. That in itself is a great help. I cant thank you enough for this great service.
I did find my answer online today. I am also following most of the advice you are giving beginners. I am a beginner and follow Mingyur Rinpoche’s teachings. I meditate with my eyes open and basically watch my (try to) thoughts. I sometimes alternate with breathing meditation. Their path stresses on Open Awareness. Which I really love and enjoy. I am happy to have found this great medicine.
Thanks again,
Suhasini

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Dear sir,

Am practising meditation. on the course sometimes i feel a very gud control over my thoughts. somedays i vl b completely in present, living moment by moment. when i think of some situation whr i culd not talk to people n feel shy i get entagled in tht. i again land up in shy nature. plz suggest me wht i can do about it.
Thanku
kavya

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Hi, Kavya.

I’d suggest you read this comment that I wrote just a few minutes ago. It was written to someone in a different situation — she was experiencing sadness rather than shyness (I’m assuming you’ve been feeling anxious?) but the approach I’d suggest is just the same.

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apoorva jain
June 23, 2015 2:45 pm

Whenever i meditate i feel very scared. As if some negative souls are coming nearby me to harm me or to distract me from meditation. I really dont understand why it does happens but my heart asks me to stop meditating because of this extremely scared attitude. Please help me. How to get rid of these negativity and build trust on my self..

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Hi Apoorva.

It’s important to separate the feelings you’re having from the stories that you’re creating around them (and which in turn intensify the feelings). Fear is a feeling. The idea that “negative souls” are trying to attack you is a thought — and a very unhelpful one, because it leads to more fear. If you just experience the fear and relate to it with kindness and curiosity, it’ll be more manageable, and eventually it’ll pass. But the question of how to get rid of your fear reflects what may be an unhelpful approach, because it may well be rooted in a fear of feeling fear. Acceptance, kindness, and curiosity can help you overcome fear. Having an aversion to fear simply pushes the fear away.

You also, like almost everyone who writes to me, don’t mention what kind of meditation you’re doing! It’s like telling a sports coach that you get a sore knee when doing exercise, but not mentioning whether you’re swimming, running, or doing yoga. You’re probably not doing lovingkindness practice, but I’d highly recommend that you do.

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