By Erric Solomon //
It used to be that every year my wife, Eva, and I would go to Cabo San Lucas in February to escape the relentless winter rain. It was only a two-hour flight from Silicon Valley, and we would leave in the morning and be on a stunning beach the same afternoon. One trip, we were having an especially idyllic time. We would start every morning meditating while looking out onto the ocean, and then go for a swim. Sitting on our beach chairs we were in bliss. I put my arm out and lovingly drew beautiful, dear Eva toward me and then I heard myself gently say with a little sigh: “Too bad every day can’t be like this.” As soon as I heard these words slip off of my tongue, I realized that even during this perfect moment, I was subtly dissatisfied.
During such wonderful times, haven’t we all caught ourselves thinking, “Too bad every day can’t be like this?”
The inability to be fully present robs us of even life’s most basic pleasures. And yet scientific research has found we are completely distracted from the present moment more than half the time! Of course, day dreaming and letting the mind wander has benefits as well (especially for creativity). But nearly all the time we spend distracted is because it’s a habit, rather than a conscious choice. And this habit has a measurable effect on our well-being.
We are nearly all the time evaluating what’s happening, even when there is no reason to do so. It’s like we have a little ticker tape running across the bottom of our screen, constantly telling us “ooo I like that” or “yuk that’s no good.” And then we start to think about it. And soon we are lost in thought. These thoughts can build upon and reinforce each other. They quickly grow into the world’s biggest stealer of contentment: comparing ourselves to others and their circumstances or an idealized version of the life we think we ought to be living.
So we all have heard that meditating can help us learn to be present-moment focused. Still we struggle because the habit of comparison is so strongly ingrained that it leads to self-denigration which can overwhelm us, especially when we try to meditate. But it is just a habit. We can learn how to choose to be more present-moment focused and therefore more content.
First we need to weaken the comparison trap, by relaxing the comparing. Whenever comparisons arise in our mind, if we can remember to think of something we are grateful for, we destroy the power of the comparison habit. We gradually accept ourselves, even while knowing we can improve, simply by remembering, again and again, to appreciate what we have.
Free from the comparison trap, meditation can form the basis of a healthy self-image, sanity and contentment. This is the basis for actualizing the full potential of our human existence, whether our goals are spiritual or mundane. But wait, there’s more! Distraction is no longer simply something we have to worry about, especially since we will become distracted anyway. We can learn to do it less and less often, but for nearly all of us, we will still get lost in habitually thinking about thoughts. Yet, distraction is an opportunity, a way to get to know the basis or nature of our mind—a pure knowing-awareness that forms the basis of all our insight, wisdom and warm-heartedness. We can actually have our first glimpse of this natural basis of mind, when we notice we have become distracted.
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About the Author
Erric Solomon is co-author, with Phakchok Rinpoche, of the book Radically Happy: A User’s Guide to the Mind. A former Silicon Valley Technologist, he has studied with some of the world’s greatest spiritual masters and, in 2009, he completed a traditional three year retreat. He has been an invited speaker leading seminars and retreats in corporate settings, as well as in prisons, and Buddhist centers across the US and Europe.