Been to a restaurant lately with TVs up on the walls? Even if the sound is off, you and your companions are constantly distracted by the flashing colors and images. Conversation that might build the relationship is instead difficult to maintain, as eyes drift away, and you react not to each other, but to the entertainment magnet on the wall. It’s so frustrating, and disappointing.
Distracting video also happens in meditation, described by Martin Laird in “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation.” There you are, repeating your mantra, when along comes a compelling internal video. It plays personalized content — something you need to do after meditation, something that didn’t go as well as you’d have liked, or maybe some event that has you worried, or angry, or unhappy. Laird assures us that these videos are not going to stop — any more than the restaurant owner is going to shut off those TVs. But you can, with practice, become less distracted by them.
This ignore-the-video concept was immediately helpful with my meditation, but what surprised me was its practical application at work. When a stressful email hit my inbox, when a meeting was going poorly, when a colleague was going off the rails, I noticed the video of negative thoughts starting in my head: indignation, resentment, demoralization — customized to fit the situation. And how helpful were these videos to keeping me motivated and productive? Zero.
My goal for 2016 is to improve my meditation practice — to meditate more often, and to get better at contemplative prayer as a spiritual practice. But if I succeed, I may also end my workdays in a better state of mind, more able to enjoy my family’s company. And as for dinner conversation at restaurants with TVs? The problem isn’t the TVs. The problem is going to one of those places when our team’s game isn’t on, or it’s the off-season.
See how your perspective changes, when you’re not distracted by the negative video in your head?