Focus and Distraction

“If some unskilled thoughts associated with desire, aversion or confusion arise and disturb the mind, you should attend instead to another characteristic which is associated with what is skilled.”
Buddha’s Discourse on the Forms of Thought

Among the keys to living well is to know how and where to focus attention and how and when to remove focus. Many of us may be drawn to focus on the news, which can be extremely compelling. It is beneficial to be informed of current events, but especially in times of crisis, the information can be overwhelming. How much information is helpful and how much becomes merely anxiety provoking? If all we are doing is feeding our anxiety or anger, it may be time to take a break.

If you are focused on the news to the point that it may be unhealthy, take a news vacation. Limit the time you spend focusing on information you may not really need.

Be mindful of the effects of unhappy information on your mind and body. Do you feel yourself becoming sad or worried much of the time? Do you notice that your body is tense, over stimulated, or maybe tired and lethargic? Are your thoughts persistently troubling? When faced with urgent problems we can’t solve, we become distressed. When the distress persists, we may become depressed. If you think you might be depressed, talk to a medical or mental health professional, but in the mean time, we can all help ourselves by working with our thoughts.

Point your attention just as you would point your finger. It is an act of will. We can chose where our thoughts go, much as we choose were our hands go. Just as we trained ourselves to keep our hands away from certain parts of our bodies in public, we can train our minds to keep away from certain thoughts.

If you find your mind wallowing in negativity and pessimism, throw out those thoughts as you would a piece of garbage that fell on you. Choose more positive thoughts that will create a more open and hopeful state of mind.

Another way to distract from unwanted thoughts is to focus on something else. When thoughts disturb you, focus on:

When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the object of your attention. Notice your mind’s tendency to wander off. Accept that as a quality of mind that we all have, and bring your attention back to the present.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett