I recently returned from a month of yoga teacher training in a remote part of the Costa Rican jungle.
I was at a place with very limited Internet access, and sometimes no electricity at all. I slept in a one-walled hut in the woods, all alone except for the little jungle animals that came to visit me at night. I practiced yoga every day, which tended to be a deep emotional journey into the body, often resulting in a room of 17 wailing women and one bewildered, patient man. It was awesome.
What I loved most was how little I was able to distract myself when I felt uncomfortable or upset. And even when I was successful in distracting myself by chatting with friends, going on Instragram or eating raw chocolate, shortly afterwards I’d be in a practice that forced me to face whatever it was I’d wanted to distract myself from.
We live in a culture that teaches us how to be experts at distracting ourselves. Whether through food, alcohol, TV, internet, sex, work—even yoga or meditation at times—we have so many convenient ways to keep our minds occupied so we don’t have to deal with what’s happening inside ourselves, so we don’t have to face our fears.
An entire month of continually returning to the truth helped me see more clearly that everything I’m afraid of—everything I want to distract myself from—is imaginary. It’s the distraction itself that causes me to suffer, not what it is I think I’m trying to distract myself from.
I realized what I thought was pain wasn’t really pain after all. What I used to think was pain is actually just my resistance to a sensation that might actually not feel so bad.
Removing our walls and unwinding our impulses to resist what we feel isn’t easy. But it can start now by simply noticing what’s present and true in your body. It can start now by having compassion for yourself. And it can start again and again by choosing not to eat, drink, or grab your phone when you feel uncomfortable.
In truth, the desire to distract yourself is a gift. It’s like a little bell that rings letting you know when something new or uncomfortable is happening inside of you. When something needs your attention. It’s a sign that unless you drop the distraction and bring your focus within, you won’t be able to get what it is you truly need.
Next time you are feeling the impulse to eat and you know it’s not real belly hunger, get curious with what it is your body is trying to tell you. Are you trying to distract yourself from something? Did something uncomfortable just happen? Did you remember something discouraging? Are you worried about something? Did you get a text 5 minutes ago that brought you on a spiral of thought that led you to feeling afraid or lonely or not good enough? Whatever it is, bring it into the light of your awareness, and have compassion for yourself. Trust that whatever you truly need will come to you, but the NEED itself requires your kindness and awareness first. The universe can only know what you need when you bring it into the light. So be honest with yourself. Admit what you truly need in each moment. And watch your desire for distraction fade as your real life becomes more and more awesome.