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On Distraction and Master

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of April 3, 2006

these questions were based on the article
"The Spectrum of Distraction"

Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2

This Week's Questions

[posed by Ed D.]
  • What is the nature of mastery?
  • What are the two types of distractions?
  • Are distractions a misguided attempt to connect?

Do you know?

[Question 1] What is the nature of distraction? Is it that you feel you have no choice other than to relive an injury?
[Answer] Actually, there are two types of distractions, the one you just mentioned and a second type. Thus, in the type you mentioned; a Type 1 - "Injury Key" type of distraction, you relive an injury, while in a Type 2 - "Social Priority" type of distraction, you get distracted by your socially prioritized interests. What's the difference?

With Type 1 - Injury Key type distractions, your focus narrows and you feel you have no choices. With Type 2 - Social Priority type distractions, your focus expands and you do feel you have choices. Now, let me give you a few examples. Let's start with a Type 1 - Injury Key type distraction.

To begin with, let's say we are dealing with someone whose injury revolves around her having gotten injured while getting a hypodermic needle. In one such case, I realized the woman had this type of an injury because she repeatedly stared at a paper clip I was playing with. Again and again, she became distracted by this paper clip which, in hindsight, I realize resembled her injury key; a hypodermic needle. Thus, because the woman's focus was narrowed and she felt no choice but to stare, she was obviously experiencing a Type 1 - Injury Key type distraction.

Now let's now look at a Type 2 - Social Priority type distraction. This time, let's say we are dealing with a man whose primary social priority is comfort. Moreover, on this day, he is sitting in my office, and my office is a bit stuffy. In all likelihood, this man would notice the stuffiness right away. He would also probably try to ignore it. Despite this effort though, as time went on, he would probably become more and more distracted by this stuffiness until eventually, his "comfort inventory" might expand to include things like that the couch was a bit hard, or the room too bright, or the traffic outside too loud.

At some point then, this man might become so distracted as to feel strong urges to ask me if he could open a window. Of course, once he had done this, his distraction would end and his would focus would return to normal. No big deal.

Did you notice how the scope of this man's distraction changed over time? It grew from the stuffiness in the room into a full blown comfort inventory. He also grew more and more distracted the more he noticed. His focus? Expanded. His choices? He could focus on it or ask to open the window. Expanded focus and choices? Type 2 distraction.

Finally, let's say this time we are dealing with a woman who is being distracted by a wayward thread on the sleeve of my new sweater. Is she being distracted by an injury or by her social priorities? In order to know, we need to examine the scope of her distraction. Is her focus narrowed, or expanded? Let's first consider what it would look like if her focus was narrowed.

If her focus was narrowed, the woman might suddenly feel compelled to tell me how badly this thread was distracting her. She might also need to blurt out a request asking me if she could cut it off. In this case then, the woman would be behaving as if there was nothing in the world more important than her immediately cutting off this thread. Obviously, her focus here is narrowed. In addition, she is also behaving as if she has no choice other than to ask me if she can to cut off this thread, and would probably continue to bug me until I let her do it.

And if I did tell her it would be OK to cut off the thread? The minute she cut it off, her distraction would probably be over. Moreover, she would probably feel very relieved at that point and might even comment on this. After which, we could then go on.

What about if her focus was expanded?

In this case, after noticing my sweater thread, the woman might begin to scan the room for more unclipped threads. She might, in fact, begin to look around at everything in the room, from the couch pillows, to the lamp shades. At which point, she might sheepishly admit to me that she felt somewhat distracted by my sweater thread. Then, in all likelihood, she and I would just laugh at it all and refocus on our work together, even without her having fixed this thread. Why? Because in this case, the woman would have felt she did have available choices. She could fix this thread or not fix it. Either way though, after having acknowledged her distraction, we would be free to go on.

Here, then, are the two types of distractions; [1] Type 1 - Injury Key distractions and [2], Type 2- Social Priorities distractions. With Type 1 distractions, the person feels a narrowed focus and no choices. With Type 2 distractions, the person feels an expanded focus and at least some available choices.

[Question 2] If the nature of distraction is that you feel no choice but to be drawn to your injury, then isn't every key technically a distraction, as your focus narrows to it with no feelings of choice?
[Answer] As I've just said, yes, a key is a distraction. A major distraction, in fact. More over, this type of distraction is identifiable by the experience of having a narrowed focus with no choice other than to attend to this distraction.

In part, this is what makes us so irritable when we relive injury. We feel so controlled by this distraction. This makes us feel as if changing this person, place, or thing is the only way to get relief from this distraction.

In the short run, this is true. We do feel relief when we get rid of these distractions. However, since these people, places, and things are only bringing to the surface an already existing injury, getting rid of them never offers more than temporary relief.

Ultimately then, the only way to permanently end these distractions is to heal the injury provoking them. Moreover, it is these very distractions which offer us the best clues as to where to look for this healing.

[Question 3] What is the nature of mastery? Does "mastery" indicate that you have gained an ability to create conscious choices in the area you have mastered?
[Answer] Yes, you are exactly right. "Mastery" indicates that you have gained an ability to create conscious choices in the area you have mastered. In fact, you can actually measure the degree to which you have mastered this thing by the degree to which you can create these conscious choices in real time.

Thus, many people achieve what appears on the surface to be mastery of something, say, an ability to do a particular move in a martial arts practice session. However, doing practice sessions and actually fighting are two very different situations. Thus, during practice sessions, people normally do not feel the need to be creative. In fact, most masters' follow the same tradition as that present in formal educational environments. What I mean is, they see "parroting correctly" as the measure of one's learning. This means most people in martial arts practice sessions are rewarded and complimented when they can parrot well without being creative.

This changes drastically in actual combat situations though, as here, peoples' moves cannot be preplanned or rehearsed. They must create combinations of martial arts moves in response to the moves of another martial artist. In real time. This means combat situations are a much better test for mastery, in that having to create real time choices requires far more mastery than merely being able to parrot moves. Which makes me wonder why so many martial arts teachers focus so much of their time on teaching people to parrot moves well.

[Question 4] Are peoples' distractions misguided attempts to connect in an area of aloneness?
[Answer] Are distractions misguided attempts to connect? Not really. They are simply normal events in the lives of all human beings. Moreover, you seem to be asking here if distractions are something which is broken in human nature. If you are, then ask yourself this. Would we be better of without distractions? For instance, would we be better off if we never got distracted by anger?

To see, consider this. Excuse my bluntness. If you caught someone molesting a six year old and you could not get angry, would you be better off? There are those who tell us we would be. Of course, while these folks spent their time pontificating as to the true nature of this event, I'd be dragging the ass hole off this kid, angry the whole time.

Would I want to hurt this person? Yes, I would. Would I? I would hope not. Even so, I see my anger as a good and useful thing here, and not as something I need to work toward getting rid of. I, in fact, have no desire to ever be at peace with such a thing. Ever. It's wrong.

How about those folks who never worry about money, as they see having a good spiritual life as all that is important? I, in fact, have met a few people like this. Believe me, they suffer. Each and every time they feel the pain of material worry. So would never being distracted by money worries be a good thing? Well, on the days wherein you had no money worries, I'm sure it would feel good. But on the days wherein the landlady was screaming at you that you were three months behind in your rent and that you would have to move out by the end of the month? Not so good, I imagine.

So now, consider this. What would life be like if nothing distracted you? Would you be better off?

At first glance, you might think so. But consider this. What would life be like if you could never forget your worries, for instance, if you had no way to distract yourself from your mental or physical pains? How about if you had no way to distract yourself from your social duties or spiritual needs? How about if you had no way to overlook all the things you need to accomplish? And yes, if you did, you would feel less distracted. But you would also feel overwhelmingly pressured by the chaos of it all. This doesn't sound like a very desirable life to me.

As for my own experiences with distraction, three very meaningful events immediately come to mind.

The first occurred during the ten years in which I sat meditation on the cliffs in and around Perkins Drive. At that time, I would climb down the face of the cliff to about sixty or so feet below the lookout. One day, about a half hour into my meditation, I heard a group of young people laughing and shouting above me. To say the least, I was distracted.

At first, I tried to ignore this distraction and to refocus on my practice. Again and again though, I failed and became more and more distracted. Finally, I remembered my truth about this. I stopped resisting this distraction. What happened then was very meaningful. Within minutes I heard an inner voice say to me, "when you are no longer in a body, you will miss this distraction." As I then considered what this would be like by picturing being unable to hear sounds of any kind, I felt a great sadness about my having never seen the beauty in all the noisy distractions I had felt.

My second memory follows this story perfectly. At the time, I have been attending the healing sessions of my friend, Fr. Bruni. In these sessions, he spends a good two or so hours speaking on spiritual matters before then commencing with the healing portion.

On this particular day, we were about twenty or so in the audience, including a mother who had moved to the back of the room with a crying baby. I remember feeling intensely distracted by this baby's crying. In fact, I remember feeling so angry that all I could think of nothing else. This mother was not doing her job, and everyone was suffering because of this. Eventually then, Fr. Bruin, sensing this distraction in us all, stood silently looking back at the baby for several minutes. Then he said to all of us, "Isn't that a beautiful noise."

To put it mildly, I was floored. It was, perhaps, one of the most spiritual teachings I have ever felt. And although I can not say I have never again felt distracted by crying babies, I can say I have never forgotten the true nature of what I am feeling. I am being distracted by something normal and not by someone not doing their job.

My third story took place when I was away on a summer men's retreat. On this particular morning, I remember being the first one up. Wanting to sit my morning meditation but not wishing to disturb anyone, I went outside and walked a ways into pine grotto.

At first, I felt very peaceful and relaxed. But after sitting there awhile, eyes closed and calm, flies began to land and walk on both my bare arms. Has this even happened to you? To be honest, I felt distracted almost to the breaking point. I also felt faced with the classic meditative practice dilemma; should one endure the distraction or should one shift and refocus?

I chose the former, as my personal beliefs are to "let the bear eat you" and find out what is on the other side. Even so, I felt like I was descending into a hell. These flies were provoking a distraction in me which was almost too much to bear. And it kept getting worse. I felt determined though to see what was on the other side of this distraction.

Finally, as more and more landed on my face, and when I thought I would have to burst out of my posture and run screaming from the woods, I felt a totally unexpected feeling. I felt as if this terrible distracting itch had melted into a physically joyful experience. Certainly, I had never felt anything like this before.

In hindsight, I had, indeed, let the flies come "eat me" and had found something wonderful on the other side. What? That on the other side of every distraction I have ever felt lies a wonderful connection to the very thing which had been distracting me. More so, I realize that in every distraction, injury or otherwise, lies an untapped beauty waiting to be discovered.

As to your question with regard to the aloneness in all of this, yes, distractions do make us feel less a terrible aloneness, especially when we try to honor them. But we don't choose these distractions for any "why logic" reasons. We simply attempt to respond to them. Sometimes, they even teach us things.

[Question 5] I often feel like I am struggling to remain focused. I'm not even sure what it is which is distracting me. It is as if I have literally lost my mind. Or at least that I have lost control of my mind. Based on how I've just described my experience, do you think am I being distracted by the confusion I feel when I experience too many points of interest?
[Answer] I'm not sure. To be honest, your description seems to be a bit like the very distraction you are describing; unfocused and disturbing. The more I think about it, in fact, the more I see your description as being a very accurate mirror of what you must be feeling in these times. So what is the nature of your distraction?

I'd say, from our recent discussions on the nature of ADD and Asperger's and how these two conditions mirror each other, that you clearly fall into the ADD end of the ADD / AS continuum. Why? Because you seem so compelled to learn how to get rid of these distractions, rather than to learn more about them. People at the AS end of the continuum feel more compelled to learn the nature of these distractions than to simply get rid of them. For instance, being on the AS end of the continuum myself, you could easily see what drove me to look deeper into flies landing on my arms in the prior question. You, on the other hand, would have probably wanted to kill them all. Or at least, to run screaming from the woods.

Didn't I, in fact, want to do this too? Yes, I did. But I more wanted to understand the nature of my distraction. Thus, my chosen path of action.

As to your specific question, as to whether I think you are being distracted by having too many points of interest, I would say that yes, you must be. However, I would also say you were being distracted by the urge to bluntly end the whole event, and that you are probably being distracted by a secondary distraction as well; the ambivalence you seem to be having between these two attitudes.

So what could you do to change this? To be honest, your nature is your nature. What I mean is, all people at times feel this same distraction, albeit with varying amounts of curiosity as to the true nature of the distraction. My best advice would be to simply choose a single focus within this distraction and stick to that. This, in fact, is exactly what I did in my flies during meditation story. I chose to focus entirely on discovering what was experientially on the other side of this distraction. And I did.

Admittedly, I felt like I too was losing my mind during this event. moreover, I know I would not choose to follow this course of action every time. Not even most times. But I'm glad I chose to follow this course this one time.

[Question 6] How do people master a life skill?
[Answer] By learning to recognize when they can and cannot picture themselves doing this skill. This, in fact, is why picturing is the essence of much of competitive sports training. And much of serious meditation. And most scientific discoveries. And most good parenting. Picturing, in fact, is the essence of mastering just about any life skill, regardless of which skill. This makes learning to recognize when you can and cannot picture one of the most important life skills one could ever master.

[Question 7] What determines what I focus on?
[Answer]This is a difficult question to answer definitively. Given no further information, I'm not sure I can say. I would guess though that what you focus on has more to do with what moves into your internal field of vision than on anything else. Movement draws our attention, while stillness dissuades our attention.

[Question 8] What determines what I distract "to" or "from?" What determines the direction of distraction?
[Answer] The direction of being distracted "to" and "from" something is almost entirely determined by the degree to which you sense movement from one place to another. Thus, when you watch someone dance, the degree to which you see this person move is the degree to which you can consciously witness the person dancing. Moreover, we humans are programmed to follow this movement and will feel resistance if asked to not follow this movement. For instance, try watching a tennis match or a track and field race without following the action. This is difficult to say the least.

On the other hand, we humans are also programmed to be drawn to both to Type 1 - Injury Key distractions and to Type 2 - Social Priority distractions. In both cases, we can be witnessing movement in one moment and then be totally unaware of this very movement in the next instant.

To see how this happens normally, imagine you are watching a foot race wherein a friend of yours is running in the race. Now imagine that someone asks you picture only a part of the track, ignoring the race itself. Can you imagine how hard this would be? Hard, to say the least. Movement draws our attention.

Now imagine that it suddenly begins to rain hard. Can you imagine how distracted you would be by this rain, and that you would probably feel drawn to look up at it even if the race was about to climax? This is a Type 2 distraction. Movement, yes, but also a comfort thing.

Finally, now imagine how all this would play out if you had been injured in early childhood in an event wherein you were startled by someone yelling at you as you raced across a field. If this had happened, then as the race came to a close and the fans starting yelling, you might be unable to focus on anything except on the yells of the people in the stands. You might even feel compelled to yell back at them and to tell them all to shut up, that you were trying to focus on the race. This is a Type 1 distraction. There is movement; the runners racing. There is a Socially Prioritized distraction; the down pouring rain. But there is also an Injury Key type distraction; the yelling during the race.

Notice how we prioritize these three things. We feel most drawn to our Injury Keys, then to our Socially Prioritized distractions, and then to the simple observations of movement itself. And of course, things which combine all three; an Injury Key with the movement of one of our Socially Prioritized distractions, are the most intensely distracting of all.

[Question 9] Do distractions affect one's degree of mastery in all four skill areas? In addition, must mastery involve having skill in all four skill areas?
[Answer] Wow, Ed, this is a difficult question. Let me see. I assume by "all four skill areas" you mean skills in the four social priorities; [1] sensation, [2] organization, [3] understanding, and [4] freedom. So do distractions affect your ability in all four skill areas?

Not necessarily. In fact, distractions can affect a skill in anything from one up to all four social priorities.

So does mastery require you know the particular skill in all four areas? Perhaps a better way to ask this would be, is each skill area a different kind of mastery?

Here, I would say, yes, it is. Thus, we could say that people who can demonstrate a significant degree of skill while being distracted by a particular social priority have mastered this part of this particular skill. Being considered a full master then would require that people can demonstrate this significant degree of mastery in all four areas.

[Question 10] How would you know if you had Mastery over a skill area?
[Answer] This answer is simple. The test is, how much of what you believe you have mastered can you picture? If you can picture in a steady stream what you have learned, and if you can picture without effort alternatives to what you pictured, then you have mastered this skill. More over, what you cannot picture, you have not even seen let alone mastered yet.

Thus, mastery requires that you can be effortlessly creative with regard to this particular skill. In other words, a master can create an endless supply of new techniques for mastering this particular skill. Moreover, he can do this effortlessly, in real time, over and over again.

Now add to this the idea that mastery requires people can do all this in the presence of distracting events. Bruce Lee's performance with ten opponents coming at him at once, for instance. Certainly, this was a true test for his having been a great master.

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