The Magical Moment of Distraction


By Erric Solomon

Meditation is supposed to be a practice of non-distraction. So what is so magical about the moment you realize you have become distracted?

In our book, we explain that meditation has three essential aspects: Mindfulness, Awareness and Relaxed Spaciousness.  


Mindfulness is the part of meditation practice that everyone talks about—we remain mindful of our meditation object.  The most common practice is to use the breath as an “object” to be mindful of. We do this by placing our attention on our breath and we remain mindful of our inhalation and exhalation.

My teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche used to explain that the very basis of our discontentment is the constant evaluation of the quality of our experience. We all know it very well, the little inner voice that constantly says whether what we are experiencing is good or bad, incessantly evaluating even about the most trivial experiences. So, on its own mindfulness can just be an exercise in the root of all our problems—we can become too wrapped up in holding onto the object.  In such a case meditation is just mundane grasping after our meditation object and fearing forgetting about it.


Relaxed Spaciousness

When we meditate with a relaxed, spacious attitude, we give the mind the space to be however it is, while gently remaining mindful of our breath (or whatever object we choose to use).  What’s interesting about this is that although we still will have thoughts and emotions, within a spacious mind they have so much less power over us.



Awareness is the aspect of our mind that brings Relaxed Spaciousness into our practice. When we are learning to meditate, awareness is a kind of vigilance that makes sure we are remaining mindful of the breath. It is within the expanse of awareness that meditation takes place.

Normally we only notice what we are aware of, but never the knowing quality of mind itself.  In meditation we have an opportunity to get to know our own natural awareness, the knowing quality of the mind that is free from thoughts and emotions. This is a pure knowing, that is not dependent on having something to be aware of. When we rest in awareness itself that is the authentic moment of non-distraction.

The first glimpse we might have of our natural awareness is the moment we notice we have become distracted. That very instant is the arising of awareness naturally free of thought. Normally, this instant is so short and, because of our habit of paying attention only to what we are aware of, we miss the authentic moment of pure knowing. Awareness is what knows we are distracted, whether or not we have a thought such as “I am distracted”.  The knowing quality of mind doesn’t depend on having a thought to be aware.  But as we become more and more familiar with meditation, we gradually see the naked moment of awareness more and more clearly. We can see that we know we are distracted independent of whether or not we think that we are distracted.

The point of all of this discussion is to realize that doing meditation “perfectly”, that is holding on to the breath so tightly that we never get distracted, might not be so perfect after all.  Instead, by relaxing spaciously while meditating, distraction offers us an opportunity to become more familiar with our own natural awareness.