We live in a world that is forever trying to grab our attention. That's what advertising is. Literally. Ad=to, vert=turn. People and things are trying to turn your head. The outside world, full of advertisers, is trying to get hold of your attention, and keep it. It would be a mistake to think of advertising as a recent invention. Watch nature. Birds are the epitome of advertisers, always tweeting this and that, making sure that they are noticed.
But it's distressing to many, all this advertising. It clouds our heads. Advertisers give us shorter and shorter time spans, firing images at us every second. We end up punch drunk, unable to take much in consciously, but with a constant stream of images feeding us from our eyes. We lose control of our lives, and become information feeders, turning to Facebook or Instagram or YouTube, or some other screenbased distraction, to provide our eyes with images-without-thought.
We don't notice our distress immediately. We only notice that we are becoming less and less able to stand on our own two feet. Silence without a screen becomes difficult, hard to bear. Nothing happening threatens us with an unnameable fear. We turn back to our screens for comfort - at least something is happening there; at least the screens want to talk to us. But the screens are feeding us the same thing as millions of others are receiving: the information equivalent of sweets, designed to keep us hapy for a while, and then to crave more.
We are being trained to be distracted. Advertising, after all, feeds on distraction: it is essentially the same thing. If we could not be distracted, then we could not be successfully subjected to advertising. Commercial forces have a vested interested in enhancing our ability to passively receive images from the world around us; and they also have an investment in making us fearful when those images are absent.
THE RESULTANT HUMANS
The result is the creation of a generation of humans that does little except watch screens passively. When we are not doing that, we are worrying about the silence. So we go back to the screens. And so on. We are deceived into thinking that we are doing something. What did you do today? Oh, this and that. Actually, I watched some screens. But I don't want to admit that. So I will make up some things. This and that, I will say. But I wont say 'I did nothing but watch screens.'
THE RESULTING ATTENTIONAL ISSUES
Let's think what we are creating. We are becoming beings who cannot exist without something to grab our attention. Our mobile computing devices are becoming our carers, effectively screening us out of the world around us, and into the world that they create. Developers are constantly creating pathways which they believe we can easily travel down. Places they can make us go in our minds. Until, before we know it, we have given in to all the tunnels and roads that the internet leads us down, and forgotten the real world we live in. Even better, we have compromised our idea of real, so that we see these offered screen-realities as just as real as our lives outside them.
WHY WE ARE SO EASILY DISTRACTED
To summarise the above, we are being trained by the modern comercial world to be easily distracted, and unthinking. That's what advertisers are aiming for. Imagine a consumer whom it was impossible to distract, and hard to persuade. That consumer would cost you a lot of money. Instead, you want a population that has the attention span of a gnat, and few powers of steady rational thought. The fact that we are easily distracted, is a result of our training. By television, by a world of screens.
I was wondering what the opposite to all this distraction would be. And I thought, maybe it is a mind that is so well-mastered that it is not amenable to being distracted. And so I began to try the opposite of the distraction. I imagined to myself that nothing in my environment could attract or engage my attention. I used a lot of the techniques I had gained through years of meditation. I noticed distractions fleetingly, and I let them go. Noticed another one, and let it go. Noticed another, and let it go. Soon I could bypass the noticing and letting go. The distractions started to become fewer, to lose interest in me.
I went for a walk. Even though the basic distractions had disappeared, some old distractions came to take their place. It is as though we have a working memory space where thoughts and sensations come to offer themselves. Imagine a glade in your mind, in the middle of the forest of your self, where available thoughts, feelings and sensations come to gain your attention. If you tend to them, they stay. If you ignore them, they go.
OLD PROBLEMS RETURN
I found that some old, rather magnetic thoughts entered my glade. A few family problems, for instance. I found myself tending to them, forgetting myself. Then I noticed, remembered myself, and let them go. More and more, deeper and deeper thoughts came and went, now not stopping in the glade to check for my attention, but simply wandering across and out of the other side. I realised that, once normal distractions were removed, old problems came into the space made available and tried to gain traction, attention. I didn't give them the time of day, and they went away.
After that, some really enormous problems came into the glade of my imagination. Death, love, things like that. World-defining issues that, they argued, really couldn't be ignored. 'Look at us,' they said. 'We are the really BIG problems of the world, able to speak to you now that you have dispensed with the smaller issues. You absolutely HAVE to attend to us.' But I didn't. I ignored them, and let them go, and left myself alone.
A DEEP COLD
Soon, I felt very cold. Nothing was around me, just infinite space. All the problems and issues that normally flooded my brain had left me. It was just me, and an infinite expanse of what felt like darkness. I wondered whether I could cope with this cold, this alone-ness. Nothing seemed to flourish there. It was like being trapped in a big underground cave with no escape.
But soon, a little warmth came back. A sun shone onto my skin, and I felt it. I realised I did not need to notice it for it to have its effect. Then I saw some plants. Then I knew again the space in the forest, the place where I had had all my thoughts in the past. It was the same place, but it felt less fussed. And nothing in there was trying to gain my attention. Everything was flowing through me as though I wasn't there. But I felt as though I were a part of everything. I didn't really mind being absent. Ironically, I was present, too. The closest analogy I can think of is the air in a balloon. I was the air in the balloon. You couldn't see me. But the balloon would not be the balloon without me. I was the space in the middle of everything.
I guess what I am trying to say is, today I left behind all my worries and distractions for a while. I found a way to just be, and let the world go on around me. I didn't need to be needed. I didn't need to grab hold of anything and make it my own. Philosophically, I guess you could say I became space. Like the air in the balloon. Mystically, one could say I lost myself, and became one with everything. Casually, one could say I dropped my selfishness and became a quiet watcher.
THE RELEVANCE TO DISTRACTION
I tell this story because I want to talk about how we might deal with distraction. I tell it as a story because, in many ways, it is a circular journey. You drop your usual worries; you drop the bigger worries that then invade; you drop the biggest worries you can think of, like death and relationship. Then you just sit. And the world comes back. Everything that you had before comes back. But your relationship with it is different. Now, you are not distracted by any one part of it all. You are identified with the all, and so the parts cannot affect you.
Thing of being a parent at a children's party. The party is full of little stories, of little Jill being mean to little Jack, of little Jimmy losing his presents, of little Jane losing her friends. But you are outside all of that. You care, but it is not a caring that is obsessive, or controlled by events. It is a caring that sees the whole picture, and therefore finds it hard to be discombobulated by any one part of it.
AN IDEA FOR YOU
I have an idea for you, a little project. Set aside a day, not so long in the future, just for you. On that day, pretend you are a new kind of human being, one that cannot be distracted by internet, by screen, by person, by situation, by drama, by problem. You are just you. Imagine in your mind a forest glade, which is your space. Watch the thoughts come and go in that space. Eventually, lose your connection to them, so that the whole forest dissolves into itself, and runs without you. Now you have your own dispensability, your own redundancy. Your redundancy is your greatest weapon.
Now sit with it, with your redundancy, your absence, and enjoy it. It will feel cold and lonely for a while, but in the end you may feel warmth returning. You may be able to re-engage with the world in a different way, still seeing everything, but not controlled by it. You will have become a quiet watcher. That is meditation. That is pretty much it. You'll be able to smile. In fact, you'll want to smile; because you now know that nothing matters, so everything matters; that nothing needs your attention, so everything can have your attention; that nothing is, so everything is. It's quite relaxing.
We live in a world where everything is striving to grab our attention. It is exhausting. It makes screen addicts of us all. So find some time, perhaps a day, for yourself. Go for a walk, or sit, or do something else relaxing. Learn to detach from any problems that arise in your mind. First the little problems. Then the bigger ones that take their place. Finally, let yourself sit in complete, empty space. You will find you slowly become a part of the world, but in a different way. You will not be attached to any one thing, but you will be all-present. It will be very relaxing. You will have arrived.
Or, if this all means nothing to you, you have just read something you disagree with. But that's fine.