The Show Must Go On (or, Meditation for the Easily Distracted)

Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.

Each week Chel Micheline of gingerblue dot com will offer her perspectives on our Bliss Habits. Please enjoy the wisdom and clarity she offers.

photo by Tobias Helbig

Okay, play a little game with me for just a few minutes.

Imagine that you’re walking down the street, and a sign in front of your favorite movie theater says “15 minute movie will change your life- guaranteed to bring peace, serenity, and well-being! Free. Come inside.”

You know the family that runs this theater and you know they wouldn’t pull a scam, but you’re not sure what’s up. You’re a little suspicious, but you enter anyway.

The theater is empty, so you choose your favorite seat. A sign at the front of the theater reads “please do not interact with others, speak, or leave until the presentation is complete. In order to receive benefits of this experience you must stay focused on the images on the screen.”

You feel skeptical but you remain seated. In a few seconds, the lights go down and the movie begins.

It’s not really a movie, per se – there’s no plot, no action, nothing for your brain to process and form an opinion on. It’s more of a mental screensaver, a relaxing image on the screen. Maybe it’s waves gently lapping against a beautiful shoreline. Maybe it’s a sunset. Maybe it’s an image of a child on a wood swing, joyfully flying higher and higher. Maybe it’s an image of a hammock gently swaying the breeze, or a butterfly fluttering among beautiful flowers. Maybe it’s just colors.

Whatever *you* would imagine as being the ultimate, bottom-line RELAXING thing that you’d like to experience, that’s exactly what’s on the screen.

You feel your heartbeat slow and your body relax, and your breathing begins to move in sync with what’s on screen You feel yourself settle down and begin to relax. It’s quite nice, actually. Wow! It’s working!

All the sudden, the theater door opens and a few people enter the movie. They are late, and they know it, but they are respectful and find their seats quickly. You can’t help but notice them, and get a tiny bit irritated that they ruined your little bit of peace you’re building up, but you are able to go back to focusing on the screen and feel yourself relax again.

But then the theater door opens and another set of people walk in. This time they aren’t so polite.

One guy is talking loudly on his cell phone, and he doesn’t stop when he sits down. In fact, he talks louder.

Two women are talking about something in a catty way, and they choose the seats right behind you. After a while, you start to realize they are talking about you!

You struggle not to lose your temper and turn around and say something to these rude people, not to get up and angrily storm from the theater. So you try and focus on the screen. It’s much harder.

Just then, another set of people enter the theater, this group even ruder than the last. In fact, a man sits right NEXT to you and actually tries to engage you in conversation. You feel it’s rude to completely ignore him, but the rules say no talking, no interaction, so you choose to try and focus on the screen and the man gets louder and angrier.

Every moment that goes by, it gets more and more ridiculous. How can you be expected not to say anything to him or move?

To top it all off, a naked person bursts into the theater and runs around, hollering and screaming at the top of his lungs.

What the heck is happening? What is this chaos? Why are these people so determined to distract you? And they keep coming in!

This, my friends, is meditation. (A least the first few times you try it.)

The gentle, calm movie is the act of sitting down, focusing on your breathing and getting still. Some meditation experts don’t recommend visualization, but to someone who is easily distracted (like me), I find visualization absolutely necessary- as long as it has no plot, no action. Just somewhere to rest the mind, rest the focus. There is no such thing as a “blank” mind in my world- there’s always chatter, images, narration, etc. I need somewhere for my mind to just *be*.

The other people in the theater? Those are your thoughts. There’s no way to stop them from coming and going at will, behaving the way they do. Thoughts take on a life of their own. In fact, the first few times I practiced meditation they got so belligerent I had to stop meditating and find some way to work through the stuff that was coming up.

But I can tell you this with absolute honesty- the more times I returned to that “mental theater” and focused on the relaxing movie on the screen, the better behaved “the audience” became.

While figuring out a way to lock the theater door, therefore preventing any “audience” from coming in seems like a good solution, the theater door DOES NOT LOCK. There is no way to keep the thoughts out.

So if you can’t keep the thoughts out, how do you get to quiet down, to get them to stop wanting to come? You just keep going to the “mental movies” every day, working on constantly focusing on the relaxing film flickering on the screen in front of you. The whole beauty of meditation is not sitting *in* stillness, but RETURNING to the stillness as you meditate. Every time you do that, it gets better and better.

In fact, I’ve found that the more I go to the “mental movies”, the smaller the “audience” becomes. Of course, there are times when life gets crazy and it’s a full house in that theater, but they are always much more respectful. Or I’ve just become good at being oblivious to their desperate-need-for-attention tactics.

How does this translate into real life? What benefits does it have? Well, as you get better at controlling your immediate, negative reactions to the “rude audience” of your “mental movie theater”, you also will become less agitated by rude things that show up in day-to-day life.

As someone with a hair-trigger temper, I assumed that this would NOT be the case for me since I am a very emotional person who reacts constantly, even if the “reactions” are not valid or fair. But meditation changed that for me. I won’t lie and say I’m now some peace-y person, because I’m not. But at least the smallest things don’t tear me apart inside. I have more control over the way I choose to respond to things in life.

Instead of a sudden REACTION to things, I find that I’m suddenly able to make a choice about how I RESPOND to things. I love that ability because all my life I have been struggling with reaction vs. response.

Meditation isn’t about sitting still and having a clear mind. It’s about learning how to control your focus, your attention. It’s about finding out, first hand, that with practice, you can actually choose what your attention focuses on. That’s *so* empowering.

So I invite you to try “mental movie-going” (aka meditation) for a few weeks. Sit down, close your eyes, pick out a relaxing “movie” to focus on, and work on ignoring those rude audience members. They WILL stop showing up. In fact, as the “rude audience” stop showing up, a “positive” audience, the kind you’re glad you get to share the movie with, starts to show up. They’ll come in without you noticing, and when they leave, they’ll share incredible insights with you.

And this happens not only while you are meditating, but in day-to-day life, as well. These quiet, positive thoughts just need a chance to make their case heard, and meditating helps you to allow them to do it.

12 thoughts on “The Show Must Go On (or, Meditation for the Easily Distracted)

  1. Karen B says:

    Thank you for this post Chel. I totally identify with the initial experience of meditation – it’s why I don’t do it. I had more success with guided meditation – it helps with focusing attention. But I take heed of your comments and will try again – and persevere (without beating myself up for not being able to do it right!).

    • You know, i figure that EVERYBODY does even the most ancient, sacred things their way- people pray differently. And people run differently, they garden differently, they THINK differently, why shouldn’t everyone meditate differently? Whatever works for you is the greatest way of meditating. For me, it was realizing that my thoughts would probably never pipe down and my mind would never be blank and that focusing on my breathing just sent me on a narrative tailspin…. so after that I just figured out how to make it work. Watching mental movies! 🙂

  2. JB says:

    What a wonderful description of meditation. I’ve practiced zen for about 15 years, and your explanation is a great way to let those new to it not be turned off by those distracting voices. If you fight them, you make them stronger. My teachers have always said to acknowledge them, then let them go. You are correct; it does get better with time. Whatever form of meditation, the path is the destination. Just participating in the process has it’s rewards. Thank you for illustrating it so well.

    • Thank you, JB! I’m so glad to read your response because I know my approach is a tiny bit unconventional. I’m fairly new to meditation, but I wanted to make sure that others who had a “non-stop-chatter” going in their heads knew that they could meditate, as well, and it could very VERY rewarding with practice and a tiny bit of patience. The chatter has gotten better for me, but now it’s part of the practice for me.

  3. Thank you so much, Chel! This was just the encouragement I need to get my on-off meditation practice turned back on again! :o) Beautifully written… ((HUGS))

  4. Hah, Chel, I had totally forgotten about this post – and my meditation hasn’t got any better – though the analogy of a busy cinema seems to resonate more this time – maybe I’ve tried and not succeeded (again), so it seems like a doable alternative! It certainly makes the difficulties clearer. Thanks for the reminder!

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