autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

Advice from the heart – avoiding distractions

Today’s ‘Advice from the heart’ deals with the the need to maintain mindful focus on the things that are helpful:

Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.

For those of who practice as ‘laymen’ (outside official tradition or without taking refuge), this likely seems a constraint or stricture that is unreasonable. However, in my experience, it is very wise on many levels.

The day to day life of most in the world is a combination of work, juggling priorities and responsibilities, and trying to find some happiness and enjoyment along the way. When one is stressed, angry, wounded, or otherwise unhappy, one often tries to incorporate distractions that will alleviate suffering and generate some sense of the ability to ‘be happy’ in life. This is very human and not at all a bad thing, after all, the point and purpose of this life is to be happy, right?

But humans also have the tendency to use distractions to avoid dealing with root causes; things that really should be changed so that negative patterns that hurt ourselves and others never receive the nourish they need to remain in the way or repeat themselves. We can all identify behavior patterns that we know are not helpful to ourselves. In fact, I’m sure if you spend a moment thinking on it, you can come up with one or more for yourself just in the space of time it takes to read this sentence.

The point and purpose of this piece of Advice from the heart, in my experience, is a gentle reminder that distraction doesn’t resolve things, it only distracts one from tending to them. It tells us that to means to a lasting peace and contentment in life is to be mindful of how we allow distractions to keep us from the things we know we should be doing so we can proceed through life without them weighing upon us. It also points out that the fact of such distractions as impediments are harmful to us for these reasons and, therefore, should be avoided.

Does that mean we aren’t allowed to enjoy things until we’re all realized beings? Heh. Of course not. But I think what it does mean is that we should be mindful of which distractions we use to keep ourselves where we are, and which of them are things we use to avoid having to work on ourselves and really create the environment in which we can move through things and find better for ourselves.

The analogy I like to use for myself is “partying” because it’s one I have direct experience with in my past and one that, I think, provides significant insights to how our behaviors tend to complicate things rather than simplify them.

Ultimately, the difference between an enjoyable pastime and a distraction is whether or not we do it to savor the world or to forget about things we dislike about the world.

I’m sure you must know someone who lives for the evening or weekend. Who, at every opportuntity, is out at the club, slamming back shots and drinks, dancing until the wee hours. If you ask them about it, they’ll tell you how much fun they have, about all the interesting people they meet or date, and of course, about the various adventures, hangovers, and related drama that goes with it.

I used to be that person. But the thing that I would never tell anyone was how I was horrifically lonely, unhappy, and depressed. I wouldn’t mention that if I didn’t go out, the phone never rang. I never told anyone that my life was a desert except for when I could pretend that the people I was with, the drinks I was having, and the environment I was in could make me believe and feel as if I too, had a full and exciting life. That when I was in the club, I could believe the people I was with actually cared about me, wanted me around.

The reality was that not only did these people not care about me, they didn’t even know me. Our only contact was in the club, because we had nothing in common to sustain anything outside of it. I couldn’t have told you what any one of them were like day to day. I didn’t know anything about their families, their hobbies, the things that were important to them. In fact, they could (and often did ) just stop showing up was accepted and normal. No one ever asked about or after the others. It was as if we all knew it was an illusion of care or community; something that could not sustain being questioned too closely.

The fact that the club and the partying wasn’t actually improving my life, that it only gave me a way to fantasize that my life was better, that it only kept me from thinking too much or too deeply about what I was really missing and needing to be a happier, more content person…. these were things I never let myself think about at all. In fact, I would be very angry with anyone who expressed such thoughts to me. After all, I was going out every night, I was busy every weekend, and the things I was doing were exciting and full of adventure. How dare anyone say it wasn’t good enough, right?

Here, many years later, I can see very clearly the things I was not willing to see in those moments. And I understand all too well the wisdom of this piece of Advice from the heart. Sometimes, when we’re hurting or in despair, it is convenient and easy to pretend that avoiding dealing with it is better. Sometimes, it feels like a relief to just not have to face it all the time, every day; to escape, at least temporarily.

Of course we do realize, eventually, that there is no escape. That the only way we’re ever really going to have the things we need to feel complete, happy, and at peace in our mind is to figure out what to do to bring the things we need and to be able to give the things we need to give to feel like we’re connected and a real presence of belonging to the world and to others.

The lesson of this piece of Advise from the heart is to not delay that process of work. The delay hurts us more than it ever helps us, and the struggle of denying it grows heavier and more difficult with time. We all want to be happy. We all want to feel worthy and worthwhile. We all want to have a place in this world from which we can be at peace and know that our presence brings peace to others. The only way to truly accomplish it is to refuse to allow the distractions that keep us from it.

For this reason, it is wise to avoid the amusements of the world that distract us from really getting in touch with ourselves and moving through the things that keep us suffering. It is wise to set ourselves apart from them until we can embrace them as enjoyable experiences rather than the means of avoiding dealing with others, the world, and ourselves.