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Lions Roar : May 2014
I open Ngram Viewer, which gives the frequency of a word’s use over time, and it turns out that the words “distraction” and “distracted” were most used in Jane Austen’s time but are on the rise again. And wait, here’s a link to a piece that claims that the thylacine, the Tasmanian marsupial tiger, which is a sort of totem of mine, isn’t actually extinct. With so much going on, it seems that I don’t need to leave the house after all. Nothing is wrong with any of those chunks of experience. The question is whether I can have enough space and silence inside them to take them in and claim them as my life. Distraction can have a long arc, and until the end of the story, you can’t say what’s a distraction and what’s a calling. sometimes We’re not doing it Wrong By distraction people usually mean that they were doing something and then switched to doing something else. Everyone’s mind does this a lot; fetching around is a consequence of evolution. We like to discover things and change our minds about the evidence; it’s why detective shows are popular. If my mind switches thoughts on me and I find the new state painful, or if I get fired for being on Face- book instead of the teleconference I had agreed to be on, I might think I’ve been distracted. If my thoughts jump about like puppies that want a walk, I might call my new state “madness,” which is a ven- erable meaning for “distraction.” Shakespeare uses it that way with regard to Hamlet. Telling myself I’m distracted is a way of yanking on the leash and struggling to get back to equilibrium. The idea of distraction implies that there is a baseline way of experiencing the world, which we find familiar if often uncomfortable. We think we ought to avoid distraction since it takes us away from our baseline. But the opposite is equally likely—distraction might be an opening, it might be helpful information. If my new state of mind is exciting, I might call it a discovery. I could be on the trail of what I love, in which case I would be destroying my equilibrium in a positive sense. Sometimes we are not doing it wrong. Getting lost Since all moments have their virtue, there’s not a wrong moment to have. Let’s say I’m sitting in the night, meditating, and suddenly I notice the voices of frogs: ribbit, ribbit in American, croar, croar in Spanish. The sounds open in me such a sense of delight and spaciousness that I am lost. I could lis- ten forever. So in meditation I don’t think, “Wait, what was I supposed to be doing with my mind before these creatures hopped in? There’s something I need to get back to.” I forget who I am and trust that some- how I am being carried and all the time it’s fine and whatever I need to do next will appear when its time arrives. That’s one sense of “Abiding nowhere, the heart comes forth.” Things step forward to meet me and I think, “yes, this is what I came here for.” It might be something simple—a sound or a child running to the door. I’m not wondering whether this moment is good or bad; it’s beyond all that. Inside each shard of time is a glow everlasting. getting lost and distracted in this way is what life is for. John taRRant is the director of Pacific Zen institute and the author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen koans That Will Save your Life. if we have the courage to turn toward what we love, distractions sort themselves out. meditation practice helps us notice what we love. SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 52