The Meaning of Distraction

I want to consider what role distraction has played in what has led up to this current crisis. The word itself reveals very important clues. Breaking  the word “distraction” down into its roots reveals:”dis’’ means “away”:  the connotation of absence, while “-traction” means ‘to pull’, ‘drag’, ‘to draw away’. So the root meaning of distraction conveys a clear sense of being pulled out and away. We often will use the word in the sense of a form of madness: as in “driven to a state of distraction”. This carries a sense of bewilderment and overload: and the all too familiar bewildered cry:’It’s all too much”.  It was used in the 17th century to mean “to break into bits, to separate and isolate”. How intriguing! When we are distracted – pulled out of ourselves we are clearly not present. Incidentally, ‘presence’ is an alternative  word I would use to describe the now much-used word ‘mindful.’ So the opposite of mindful could be accurately regarded as absence.

It is clear that when we are pulled out, rendered frantic we are out of order and in someway dis- eased and therefore prone to disease. Most of all, our integrity is deeply challenged by being dragged around – pulled this way and that. There is yet another fascinating layer of archaic meaning. It was used to carry a sense of negligence – of being ignorant and heedless. This state is clearly in many ways also the opposite to mindful. When I first tried to get my mind and heart into the Co-video 19 series I stated the hope of getting some kind of clarity from a careful study of inattention. Before the current crisis we ploughed on regardless, heedlessly, never reading the runes – far too busy  to see it coming. These are key markers of a systemic inattention.

In the Age of Distraction we drive on regardless in a characteristic frantic state. Can what is happening all over the planet right now be regarded as a golden opportunity to cooly look at that state of inattentiveness? It is not so much that we plough on mindless, negligent and heedless, it is maybe more important to consider how in the process we have become bodiless. The key features of distraction then are absence, being not-present and therefore in a state of becoming progressively disembodied.

We face a period of fundamental change – in which we are out of the usual grooves of habit and that is never comfortable! If we are to awaken, to tune-in and to heed the call of this crisis then an important priority is to strengthen the capacity to ease-off Automatic Pilot and to train-up and reinforce the capacity for a focused deep embodied attention. In many ways an embodied, focused attention is the opposite of a state of distraction.

The most important starting point and top-level first priority is the Power of No. This draws upon the highest level of function in our human brain. It is a non-doing capacity. It does not so much do something, more it holds back and restrains. When this quality is weak within us we become so driven, and so busy doing that we cannot “be” anything anymore.

The part of the process looks into how we get off  the carousel of Automatic Pilot. The power of No leads to the power of Now. At that fulcrum tipping point the disintegration, the fragmentation and the frantic busyness can at that point cease. Stop. It is crucially important to appreciate that the particular kind of stop here has nothing whatever to do with collapse, with caving-in or giving-up. For over 30 years I have been guiding people in steps along the way to experience something of the highest importance. These steps along the way lead to self-care and to a self-nurturance that can ultimately blossom into the unconditional loving kindness of Compassion. This gentle and wise quality of unconditional loving kindness is waiting patiently and quietly knowing all-along what we are repeatedly reminded of by the media:

“That were all in this together”. 

What has recently happened to us in this Age of Distraction has weirdly separated and isolated us and at the same time that we are able to draw upon an extraordinary capability to communicate with each other. This current crisis forces us to keep ourselves to ourselves, to stay at home, to pull back the loving hand that reaches out to reassure and comfort loved ones. But by the most amazing of paradoxes it is bringing us closer together. The separation and the social distancing has potentially brought us to the edge perhaps not of an abyss, but of an appreciation of what it is that recent past has been pulling us apart. A REAL-isation is occurring in these virus crisis times in the context of restrictions that forbid us to follow our caring instincts: to stretch out a helping hand to touch, to care. We have slewed and slithered, slowed down until we have come to a stop and to a golden opportunity. At least temporarily we have had to clamber off the carousel. We are out of the usual niches and grooves as we face unprecedented challenges and change. In these weird circumstances most of the human world has come to a stop. We can use devices of mass distraction to squander this time of great potential and possibility, to kill time until we can come out of lock-down and clamber back onto the carousel. If that happens the future of our species looks bleak. This is a fulcrum a tipping point. It is time to take heed and begin by exercising the Power of No.

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