21-Day Meditation Challenge – Day 14: Managing Distractions during Meditation
The human brain has an amazing capacity to sort through thousands of stimuli a second. Its job is to decide what information is important and what is not. What we register consciously in any given moment is a result of years of experience. Is that smell, itch, gurgle in the belly or taste something that we need to pay attention to? Most stimuli are completely ignored and never register on our radar, because the brain decides that they aren’t important. However, when most distractions of the outer world cease, when we are quiet and meditate, our brain has a lot more time to pay attention to little distracting stimuli. All of a sudden there is an itch on your nose, you can feel a hair tickling behind your ear, or a quick stab of pain occurs in the right shoulder blade. Understanding how the brain functions can help you manage these distractions.
In Martha Whitney’s tip for Day 9 she talked about the usefulness of a body scan at the beginning of meditation. Once the brain has checked in with an area and assessed the usefulness of the information it can file it, and move on. The same strategy can be applied during your meditation practice. If a sensation arises that is a distraction, briefly draw your attention to it, name it in your head twice (itch, itch or pain, pain) and you will find the annoyance just fades away. The brain has assessed it, attended to it and it very often will disappear. Move your attention back to your breath or your mantra or the focus of your meditation practice.
If your foot goes numb or you experience damaging, not just distracting pain, attend to it. Change position or try a walking meditation. Some styles of meditation will ask you to ignore the numbness. When a limb goes numb you can do permanent damage to the nerves and blood vessels if you sit in that position for hours on end. Losing the function of your foot or your arm will not make you a better practitioner of meditation. We should respect, not damage the body during our meditation practice.