Beyond the Obstacle of Continuous Distraction

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In the first level of Miksang Training we talk about the two primary obstacles to seeing. The first of these is not being available to see and connect with our world. The most extreme example of this is when we daydream and are completely absorbed in our own internally produced movies. We are completely distracted and perceptually blind. We don’t see anything outside of ourselves. To varying degrees, this is how we live our lives day to day. Through working with this obstacle in a simple way, we begin to shift our orientation so that our awareness, our attention, is facing outwards rather than inwards. The second obstacle is our habitual ways of superimposing our labels and preferences upon what we see. In order to work with this we begin to train ourselves to pay attention to the visual experience we have before our labeling mind kicks in.

The process we work with and the path we take as Miksang practitioners is to deepen our connection to the unconditional experience of direct perception. We consciously choose to cultivate the ability to recognize moments of direct seeing and to maintain our connection with them for as long as we are able. With practice, diligence, discipline and delight, we begin to find that we are able to play in the world of direct seeing for increasingly longer periods of time without reverting to habitual patterns of relating with our world and our relationship with it. This is the promise, practice, and fruition of Miksang.

Why would we want to undertake this practice in the first place? I have no doubt that for most of us it is because we have had a glimpse of it. We have experienced a piercing, penetrating moment of visual connection or we wouldn’t have taken the time out of our busy lives to come to a Miksang course. We want to be able to connect with our world and express our experience. We have a hunger to slow down and experience simple being.

I would like to talk about an additional obstacle to this journey that is atmospheric, cultural, and pervasive. We have various degrees of involvement with it, and for some of us that is dependent upon the kind of work that we do. It amplifies and propagates the very influences which undermine our ability to have a still and peaceful mind, to be fully in the present moment for any duration. I am calling it the Obstacle of Continuous Distraction. This is not the same as the distraction of being inwardly absorbed. It is more about what happens to us as we engage with the world. It is helpful to acknowledge this obstacle and clarify our relationship with it, for without this clarity, Continuous Distraction will undermine any attempts we make to live a deeply satisfying life. This obstacle is called continuous because between the constant texts, phone calls, Twitter texts, Facebook comments, new products, emails, and the sense that all this must be kept up with, we are always having to accept or reject attempts to capture our attention for long enough to get a message across to us.

Because of the unrelenting quality of continuous distraction, it is a challenge to relax and settle our minds. We can often feel off-balance, overwhelmed, with a sense that something needs to be done or happen. This vague sense of dissatisfaction plays upon the restlessness of mind and amplifies it. With an itch and scratch approach, we relate with stimuli with only a fraction of our available attention and don’t really relate with what anything actually is. Because we are distracted we haphazardly label what we see and sometimes completely mistake what is really there. We don’t experience fully, and we are never satisfied. When you contrast this to a sense of peace, contentment, and joy, it is clear that this modern technological age can bring about enormous suffering arising from a basic sense of dissatisfaction. By participating in the consensual view that the distraction is a necessary part of living today, we can lose our sense of our own experience and what really matters to us in our lives. Continuous Distraction can become by default a lifestyle choice. On the other hand, working with Continuous Distraction may be the greatest challenge of our age and what defines how we emerge from it as human beings. It is worth the effort.

Being Deliberate Can Be A Life-Style Choice

Miksang is about being deliberate – deliberately being open and fully present, beyond like and dislike. We have a constant choice in our lives generally as humans and specifically as photographers. We can muddle through, constantly distracted and disengaged from our experience, or we can keep our eye and mind synchronized throughout our day. We can feel the texture of the moments of our lives. Bringing Miksang practice fully into our day-to-day experience is a potent and profound way to neutralize the perpetual distraction and restlessness that characterizes the modern techno-world in which we live. We do not have to talk on our cell phones as we walk down the street or as we stand in line to pick up our food. If we carry our camera with us it can remind us to notice our world. We can always choose to experience our experience instead of being continually distracted.

How the Practice of Miksang Disrupts Continuous Distraction

The ground from which direct perception arises is our open, undistracted mind. Without having a mind that is available, we cannot make the electric connection of mind, eye and the objects of perception. When we are reminded to notice our world, our Miksang training activates and we simply shift our attention to the present moment and its visual aspects. When we do this, our basic orientation catalyzes a sense of clarity about what we are doing. We become deliberate in how we approach the activity of looking, seeing, and photographing. As distractions occur, we stay on track and don’t allow our thoughts and emotions to become the focus of our attention. Our cell phones may ring, but we don’t have to answer. If we choose to answer we will lose our connection with our perception. Once we notice this interruption has taken place, we can bring ourselves back once again to being open and available in the present moment (and hey, why not turn off our cell phone while we practice?). It’s challenging enough to stay still and present without allowing Continuous Distraction to disrupt the stability of our Miksang discipline.

When we do experience a direct perception, we physically stop and look at what stopped us. We want to understand, to contemplate with a still mind. Without a still mind, we cannot maintain the continuity of our experience of the flash of freshness. It becomes lost in vagueness and indecision. This is because being distracted separates us from ourselves, from our experience, and we are unsure about what we saw and how we feel about it. We are not sure if it is good enough and our restless mind looks for solutions to the problem of distraction.

At this point, if we re-apply our intention to stay with the perception, to rest with it in stillness, this can pacify a distracted mind. We apply our intention to come back to the perception and our distracting thoughts evaporate. We can always come back, and when we do, if we cannot re-connect with our perception, we can just walk away and start fresh once again. Every moment is a new opportunity to start new.

When we sit down at our computers to review our images, once again we settle our minds so that we can see our images with fresh eyes. Without an open mind as we view our images, we may apply judgment and labels to them. We may have doubt and want to make them better. We may not be able to reconnect with our original flash of perception. That is why we always begin editing with a mind free of distraction and preoccupation.

If our mind was open and available when the perception first appeared, and remained still and stable during the understanding and photographing of it, the resulting image is a pure expression of our moment of perception. It is complete. It is not diminished by one hair’s breadth of distraction. This is the hallmark of an accomplished Miksang shooter. I encourage you all to pay particular attention to Michael’s images once again with this in mind. Each one demonstrates a complete experience and expression of one moment of perception.

There is no doubt that if we integrate Miksang practice fully into our lives that Continuous Distraction will lose its seemingly seamless, relentless quality of presence in our lives. We will inevitably develop the possibility, and really the promise, that our continually distracted state of mind will be abruptly interrupted and penetrated by moments of sudden, shocking, vivid, brilliant, absorbing visual perception. We can stop and appreciate our world. It can be truly inspiring for us to be reminded that there is such a thing as living beyond Continuous Distraction.

Allowing Ourselves the Space to Be Undistracted

For those of us who meditate, many of us find the time that we carve out each day to connect with our basic being and unwind our mental preoccupations to be “the pause that refreshes”. We create boundaries around our practice time within which we decide we will not answer the phone or send or look at text messages. We know that if we don’t consciously make decisions about what interruptions we will allow, we will end up sacrificing our practice time to the demands of others.

I encourage all of us to contemplate how we regard our Miksang practice. We can come to a workshop and go through the motions of doing the exercises and assignments. But as long as we believe that Miksang is a hobby and not a practice, we will never allow ourselves the space for Miksang to develop and deepen. If we are continuously distracted and interrupted as we work with this discipline, we cannot be still and experience our experience. We stay outside looking in. Because our mind is unsettled we cannot fully process the dimensions of our experience.

We can allow our Miksang practice the same boundaries and protection from external distraction that we allow for our meditation practice. If we honor our Miksang journey in this way, it becomes an integral part of how we experience our world, just as the boundary between our post-meditation experience and our meditation practice gradually becomes less apparent.

© Julie DuBose 2010
May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author