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News You Can Use
By David Bachelor, PhD
There were a plethora of events competing for our attention this week. To name just a few headlines: The progress of the Chinese balloon; the war in Ukraine; candidates jostling for position in the 2024 election; and severe weather in various regions of the planet. Add to this palette earthquakes and fires around the globe, and our brain reaches attention overload. So, it is good that far from these major stories, in the back eddies of the headlines, there were a string of articles about overcoming distractions.
On February 1st, IAI.TV (Institute for the Arts and Ideas) website had the headline “Distraction, Flow and the Creative Mind.” The article started with the assertion, “[W]e live in distracted times, where both social media and our jobs pull our attention in a dozen different directions at once.” The author proposes “flow” as the antidote for distraction. Flow is “a peak experience in which we become intensely absorbed in a single activity.” In order to reach “flow,” the creative mind comes into play. The article suggests indulging in a creative activity and giving it our full attention. The article assumes that adding a new activity to our schedule will help us stop worrying about all the things that are not being accomplished while we engage in our new hobby.
The New York Times book review on February 2nd offered an invitation to distracted readers in its piece, “9 New Books We Recommend This Week.” Third on this list was a review of Jamie Kreiner’s “THE WANDERING MIND: What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction.” The reviewer states, “Even in desert caves or atop high pillars, monks, it turns out, struggled mightily to tune out worldly stimuli.” On February 3rd the literary website The Next Big Idea carried Ms. Kriener’s summary of her own work in its article named “The Wandering Mind.” Kreiner showed how the ancient denizens of intentional isolation faced the same challenges to concentration as modern consumers of mass media. Kreiner divulged the secret of the monks’ success, “[T]hey practiced metacognitive techniques to keep tabs on the comings and goings of their attention.” This is a fancy way to say the rites and rituals of monastic life put boundaries around the monks’ wandering thoughts.
People who lived in Biblical times also struggled with distractions. God’s human scribe to the church in Rome wrote, “In my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body” (Romans 7:22-23). Believers in the city of Corinth were encouraged with these words, “For though we live in a body, our fight is not at the physical level because our weapons are not from planet Earth. Our weapons gain their power from God for the demolition of strongholds. We smash opinions and every intellectual activity that opposes knowing God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).
The next time your mind gets overwhelmed by the headlines (or even your daily schedule), think back to God’s words to the Corinthians. With God’s help you can eliminate the distractions. God will help you find your “flow.”