A.C.E. Distractions Today.
By Damian Torres-Botello, S.J.
This past Monday, Br. Matt Wooters answered questions during an AMA event on Instagram. A member of our #31minsforpeacechallenge community asked about distractions in prayer or meditation. Distractions are real challenges in our search for peace. I find distractions can sometimes be just that, interruptions of a wandering mind. Sometimes, though, distractions can be an indicator of something worth exploring. I like to use a mnemonic device when distractions present themselves, and they often do.
Whenever we give our minds the chance to rest, our thoughts continue to move about. Think of our mind as a ceiling fan. When the fan is on, the blades move about in a circular fashion at the given speed we’ve set it on. However, when we turn off the fan, the blades do not immediately stop spinning. In fact, the fan continues to move until it eventually stops. The same goes for our head. Intentionally desiring to turn off our mind does not guarantee the mind will immediately stop running. Much like the turned off ceiling fan, the attention we’ve given to our day keeps our mind running. But a running mind is not always a bad thing, and we can use it to our advantage.
Acknowledge, Consider and Elevate (A.C.E.) is method I use to help me understand how and why distractions occur in the silence I am seeking. Whenever my mind diverts away from the peace I’ve set out to seek and back into the noise of my daily life, I employ A.C.E. to guide me back into prayer.
Acknowledge. Sometimes the distractions in my head are simply unnecessary preoccupations. My to-do list, conversations I’ve had, mentally editing something I’m writing, remembering a toiletry item I have to buy, the mental commotion is endless. Other times I’m tired and find myself dozing off, or I’m craving peanut butter M&M’s, or singing random lyrics to a song. I find it helpful to acknowledge these distractions and say – out loud – “I’m being distracted, I will return to this later.” Surprisingly, audibly naming the distraction proves quite helpful at letting go. It’s as if I’m unpacking a box and setting it down for later, I’m not giving up the distraction, just setting it aside for another time. If I’m tired or hungry, I make note of this as well, these disturbances to my peace could be indicative of needing to change my posture, change the time I’m praying (after I eat is never a good time for me), or change my prayer location.
Consider. Even if after all the acknowledging and naming of distractions, my mind continues to wander. I will use this moment as a prompt to look deeper into the aberrations turning in my head. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. offers in his book, The Ignatian Adventure, “…things happen at home, at work, or in relationships that beg for prayerful reflection. We should not hesitate to pray over the ‘scripture of our lives’ if we think that God is trying to get our attention through what we initially thought was a distraction.” Taking time for meditation, reflection or prayer opens a window often closed by the busy occurrences of our lives. Mental interferences during our silent-seeking can sometimes be the remedy we need.
Elevate. Whether I am acknowledging or considering a distraction, I always offer it up to God in gratitude. Whatever is filling the mental space, it is proof that I am alive and living. And, yes, even the hardest times in my life fall into this category. It’s not easy to be grateful when life is painful, but I try.
Try A.C.E. the next time you recognize distractions emerging in your prayer, meditation or reflection. Maybe you’ll discover another way to move through these moments that works best for you. Again, O’Brien writes, “In the end, heed the encouragement of St. Francis de Sales and others after him: If all you do is return to God’s presence after distraction, then this is very good prayer. Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.”
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.