Concentrating to Overcome Distractions
This exercise does double duty. First off, it exercises your powers of concentration. At the same time, it helps you overcome distractions. And fewer distractions, of course, means more concentration.
It's important, though, that you have already adequately mastered the basic form of meditation. That's because this particular exercise can create tension if you are not sufficiently relaxed and are unable to maintain a relatively stable meditative state. The tension, in turn, can make it more difficult to concentrate, defeating the purpose of the exercise.
Fundamental to the implementation of the exercise is the recognition that any distraction obviously has a particular point in time at which it arises and becomes an impression within the conscious mind. Following this arising, the impression, with the addition of other impressions, begins to evolve into a distraction, like a snowball becoming an avalanche.
Previous to arising of the distraction, you were meditating. Once the distraction has taken hold, you are no longer meditating. But what is happening during those crucial moments while the distraction is taking hold? Where were you while that was happening?
Those are interesting questions, into which this exercise can provide some insight. To implement it you simply watch for the moment when a distraction starts to take hold. Done correctly, you will never have the opportunity to actually see a distraction take hold because in the presence of this kind of focused attention, no distraction can take hold.
Imagine yourself as a cat sitting in front of a mouse hole. The cat intently watches the mouse hole, waiting for a mouse to come out. Which the mouse doesn't because it feels the cat watching. But the instant the cat turns its head, out pops the mouse and it's off and running.
In the same way, by watching for the appearance of a distraction, no distraction can appear. The instant you "look away" however – essentially forgetting what it is you are doing – out pops the distraction.
It's best to make sure you're well relaxed and in a basically stable meditative state of mind before starting the exercise. So warm up with 5-10 minutes of the basic form of meditation before beginning. If you feel any tension, if you feel you're "staring too hard", then back up, return to the basic form and relax more.
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