To be distracted is “To have ones attention diverted”. Sometimes distraction is very unpleasant. If a person is trying to concentrate on a task or a thought then an intrusion is not welcome. At other times distraction is not only welcome, but sought after. During times of depression or pain, people often seek distraction. Busyness, entertainment, company and external stimulation often drown out inner turmoil.
Distraction in the realm of contemplative prayer is thus a double enemy. It can prevent you from hearing God and it is thus unwelcome; or it can rise up within you and be your desire. If a person attempts to hear God in silence and solitude, then unwelcome distractions and the desire for distractions are both obstacle to be overcome. Only by removing first the outer noise, then eventually the inner noise (which gets louder when we take away the outer noise) can a person hear in silence. It’s important to realize that the problem is in our nature, not in our environment. For example, we flee from prayer because we don’t want to face being alone with ourselves and God. We create our distractions. Something in us really hates to be still in the absence of distraction. Something must die.
People have their own individual ways to overcome distraction. One thing, however, is found in common in all testimonies of success in prayer: perseverance. A slow, persistent feeding of the spirit will strengthen the spirit. A slow, steady denial of flesh will weaken the flesh. If I believe that God is present and hears me, and sees me, and loves me, then I can sit day by day and know that He is with me and hearing my heart’s cry. I don’t have to do anything except show up. Day after day, week after week, year after year; I am searching and waiting. Eventually things become quiet. With time I hear in the silence. I see the invisible. I have paid the price and now I have the reward.
One question that always arises is whether or not it is a good idea to “fight” distractions and wandering thoughts when attempting to pray. The practiced contemplatives all agree that a gentle return of focus to God is more effective than any attempt to force the mind to concentrate when it is being distracted by stray thoughts or concerns. (For further discussion of this concept see recollection.)
Nothing can replace experience in the realm of contemplative prayer. It must be practiced. A support group is a good idea. A private location that is devoted to prayer is a good idea. Spending time, one way or another, is the best idea. Spend time in silence and solitude, believing that God will respond, and He will. One reward you will get is single minded, peaceful, restful time in the presence of the transcendent one; sitting in the “Eternal Now”.
See also Dealing With Distractions.