I hope that you are enjoying this beautiful and mild fall as much as I have been.
Last weekend, my dear younger sister came to visit with her husband and her four small children. It was a lovely visit, although one day was dreary and rainy, so I had the bright idea to take the kids to a bowling alley. I haven’t been to a bowling alley since my own kids were young, so I was surprised to see how they have changed.
From the moment we stepped foot inside the building, we were bombarded with stimulation and distraction. There were the usual lights on the ceiling, more lights on the walls, and the sound of hundreds of voices, kids’ and adults’, echoing though the hall. There were a total of 34 bowing lanes. Each lane had one very large video screen at the end of the alley and two smaller video screens just above the seats, making for a total of 102 video screens that we were facing while we bowled! Each of the large screens played a different TV show, and each of the small screens alternated between advertising the lanes, showing the score of our game, and dancing animation after each person’s turn. To top it off, each of the 34 alleys was glow-in-the-dark, and each had two sets of flashing blue lights along the gutters. Just behind our lane, there was a bar which had another six screens playing completely different videos and ads. In addition to the sound of voices, every 1-2 seconds there was the sound of pins crashing heard over the very loud classic rock coming from multiple speakers over our heads.
Now granted, I am someone who enjoys ten days at a completely silent meditation retreat, so this was probably a mistake from the start. In addition, I am not a great bowler, and this game was no exception. My score was around 62. If you aren’t sure what that means, I’ll just say that it was lower than the scores of my 6-year-old nephew and my sister, who was bowling one-handed with her infant on her hip.
Now all of the distractions that I was facing — the noise, the TVs, the lights — didn’t change the fact that I got a 62. Each time I walked up to the line with my ball, I saw a Disney movie, a few football games, and some fast food ads, and for that one moment I forgot that I wasn’t a good bowler. But at the end of the game, I still had to face the 62. Now I could choose to blame the 70s-rock or the food ads for my poor score, but that wouldn’t really help me get better, would it? Even with of these distractions, I couldn’t hide from my lack of bowling talent.
This experience helped me to see how I use distraction in my every day life in much the same way. I believe that if I eat something when I get home, I won’t have to feel how exhausted I am in that moment. Or if I check my email when I’m alone, I won’t have to face feeling disconnected or lonely. But in reality, the tiredness and the loneliness, they just go into hibernation. When I’m done with the crackers or email — when I put down the distraction, those feelings are still with me. And yet I wake up every day believing that there is something outside of me that will make me permanently forget my difficulties.
I heard Pema Chodron use the analogy of scabies for this situation that we find ourselves in. She says it is as if we all have a case of scabies, and we feel itchy. So instead of just feeling the itch, and being with it, we scratch ourselves. And the more we scratch, the more it spreads, until we are covered with itchy sores. Then we go to the doctor/spiritual teacher, and he or she tells us that in order to stop itching, we need to stop scratching, practice yoga and mindfulness, and we’ll get better. If we really do that, really stop distracting ourselves from our difficulties, and face them head on instead, we will feel better.
But stopping the scratch, stopping the distraction, or turning off the 108 screens is really hard. We don’t want to feel the pain, or see that we are failing to knock down pins. We’d rather let our minds take us away to another place. To sit with the feeling of discontent, or uneasiness, or sadness, or whatever our usual challenge is, takes a lot of courage, intention, practice, and support, but it leads to real results. Coming to yoga class, meditating, or practicing mindfulness, with friends or alone, will help us be able to stay with uncomfortable feelings and resist the urge to distract ourselves. The present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, is the only time and place that we can find true contentment and peace. And true contentment is a lot more satisfying than watching animated bowling pins dance.
I’m so glad that you are there and that we can support each other’s courage in staying present for whatever arises.