Beyond Distraction: Five Practical Ways to Focus the Mind (Paperback)
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Learn how to overcome distraction in meditation practice and develop clarity in your relationships, work, and activities with this new guide from a beloved meditation teacher.
The mind can be a potent tool, used to guide extraordinary achievements, inspire good works, and incline your spiritual path toward peace and awakening. But the mind can also produce thoughts that lead to suffering. For many people, thoughts run rampant and seem to oppress or control their lives. Even the Buddha tells us that before his enlightenment, he sometimes found his mind preoccupied by thoughts connected with sensual desire, ill will, and harm. But he figured out how to respond to thoughts skillfully and developed a step-by-step approach to calm the restless mind. Now, Insight Meditation teacher Shaila Catherine offers an accessible approach to training the mind that is guided by the Buddha’s pragmatic instructions on removing distracting thoughts. Drawing on two scriptures in the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Shaila shows you how to overcome habitual modes of thinking, develop deeper concentration, and discover the insights into emptiness that are vital for a liberating spiritual path.
Following the Buddha’s pragmatic approach, Shaila guides you through five steps for overcoming distraction and focusing the mind:
1. Replace unwholesome thoughts with wholesome thoughts. For example, if you find yourself thinking thoughts of ill will toward a person, try thinking instead of their good qualities as an antidote.
2. Examine the dangers of distracting thoughts. Weigh the costs of allowing thoughts of ill will, lust, greed, and so forth to obsess your mind. The costs of dwelling on distracting thoughts nearly always outweigh any supposed benefits.
3. Avoid it, ignore it, forget it. Develop the skill to turn your attention away from habitual distractions. Remove the fuel and let the fires of distraction die out.
4. Investigate the causes of distraction. By understanding the conditions that perpetuate habitual thoughts, you can learn to free yourself from those patterns.
5. Apply determination and resolve. Supported by wisdom, you can make a firm decision to stop dwelling on patterns of thought that are not supporting your deepest values and goals in life.
Each chapter includes exercises and reflections to help you cultivate the five steps to deeper concentration. You’ll learn about your mind and develop your ability to direct your attention more skillfully in meditation and daily activities.
And ultimately, you’ll discover for yourself how these five steps boil down to one key realization: In the moment you recognize that a thought is just a thought, you will find yourself on the path to a life of remarkable freedom.
About the Author
Buddhist author Shaila Catherine is the founder of Bodhi Courses, an online Dhamma classroom, and Insight Meditation South Bay, a center for mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom in Silicon Valley, in California. She has taught insight meditation since 1996 in the USA, Europe, Israel, New Zealand, and Canada. Shaila draws inspiration from the Discourses of the Buddha and maintains an unwavering dedication to awakening. She is known for her expertise in guiding practitioners to cultivate concentration and the deep absorption states of jhana, and for her enthusiasm for sutta study. From 2006–2014 Shaila trained in samadhi and vipassana under the direction of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw. She authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana (Wisdom Publications, 2011) to help make his traditional approach to meditative training accessible to western practitioners. Her latest book, Beyond Distraction: Five Practical Ways to Focus the Mind (Wisdom Publications, 2022) shares practical Buddhist strategies for overcoming restlessness and distraction.
“Beyond Distraction offers readers a treasure trove of practices to live a fulfilled life, free from the division of focused versus distracted. Shaila Catherine points out the myriad expressions of distraction, such as daydreams, fantasies, and projections. She then offers skillful means to dissolve the notion of distraction and to engage fully with our priorities. Readable, clear, and down-to-earth, Beyond Distraction deserves a wide readership.”
— Christopher Titmuss, author of The Buddha of Love and The Spiritual Roots of Mindfulness
“In this thorough and useful book, Shaila Catherine translates ancient Buddhist wisdom into practical explanations and exercises to help us work with our distracted minds. Her clear instructions and wise suggestions will help the reader to no longer be at the mercy of their thoughts and to find deeper places of joy and freedom.”
— Diana Winston, author of The Little Book of Being
“This is one of the most detailed and comprehensive guides to meditation out there. Deeply rooted in the Dharma but easy to follow, this practical book will transform your ability to meditate so you can transform your mind.”
— Kristin Neff, author of Fierce Self-Compassion
“An excellent, entirely approachable, and eminently practical companion on the path of cultivation from one of America’s most beloved Buddhist teachers. Shaila Catherine has that rare combination of extensive understanding of Theravada Buddhist philosophy and decades teaching vipassana and jhana to Buddhist meditation practitioners. If you seek an exceptional guide for developing wisdom, compassion, and freedom from suffering—on the cushion and in daily life—look no further."
— Lisa Dale Miller, author of Effortless Mindfulness
“Beyond Distraction: Five Practical Ways to Focus the Mind offers a comprehensive map for accomplishing the inviting promise of the title. Shaila Catherine draws on her deep reservoir of meditative experience and her careful study of the Buddha’s teachings to highlight many of the familiar obstacles in meditation practice, and how to overcome them. This book contains a wealth of pragmatic advice for both new and experienced meditators, and it will be an invaluable guide for all those journeying on the path to greater freedom.”
— Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
“With clarity and heart, Shaila Catherine shows us many effective ways to be free of stressful, anxious, hurt, and resentful thoughts. Her book is deep and vast, grounded in science and illuminated by Buddhist wisdom, and useful for both specific issues and a lifetime of practice.”
— Rick Hanson, author of Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness
“Shaila Catherine is a master of the mind. She brings deep wisdom from decades of personal practice and teaching, together with accessible and pragmatic tools in a user-friendly format. Whether you are just beginning to meditate or have logged many hours on the cushion, this book is for you.”
— Judson Brewer, author of The Craving Mind
“This book encourages us to understand our minds better and to trust that we can shift from drivenness toward a gentler, more intentional way of living. Lots of helpful advice for these times marked by anxiety and uncertainty!”
— Kate Lila Wheeler, editor of The State of Mind Called Beautiful