One of the biggest obstacles I have encountered on the creative path has been dealing with distractions. This is especially relevant it today's ever shifting, ever enticing world of technology and entertainment. It is so easy just to let our minds go numb and sink into the cyber world for an hour (or three) and not even realize whats happening. When we come to, all we know is that our energy has been siphoned into something other than our practice and now we lack the time to get anything of meaning done.
This can be unpleasant for most everyone but is a particularly painful issue for anyone who is trying produce art with any kind of consistency. Its all well and good to act according to the whims of inspiration and to leave your creative flirtations up to fate but for anyone who makes a commitment to regularly providing content, distractions can become a killer. Things like technology and entertainment and boredom and even social pressures can very easily creep into our dedicated spaces and sabotage our highest aspirations. Even those of us with a regular practice, who pride ourselves on our discipline and who have seen the true benefits of consistency, still need to drag ourselves away from those very same sink holes that threaten to swallow our previous efforts whole.
I personally struggle with this, or a version of this all the time. My life is often so hectic because of work and family and the basic elements of survival, that even when I do have a free moment to dedicate to something creative, I often can't focus on the things that are in front of me. Its like I'm trying to play catch up-I want to do everything that I've been neglecting all at once and because of this, I wind up doing nothing. I just spread myself so thin that I am not able to put myself into any one thing whole-heartedly.
This kind of attitude can put some serious restrictions on the creative spirit. In my experience, nothing good can come out of a distracted mind. It is far too wound up and scattered to produce anything of true substance. Deadlines and moderate procrastination can be useful at times because they can put us into a kind of frenzy that forces our energy in the proper places, but distractions are on an entirely different level. A distracted mind is constantly expending itself in useless directions.
Its an age-old issue in a certain sense. Its something that every creative person who has ever lived has been forced to deal with. Overcoming the distractions Is one of the main things that makes an artist, an artist. Without this quality of discipline and fortitude, creativity is just a hobby. No-one gets a free pass here...
So what do we do to overcome this obstacle? Well, I am certainly no poster child of focus and consistency but I do have a couple of tactics that have helped me in my most distracted moments.
One of the main things I have learned, especially in relation to my meditation practice but also with my art, is to set realistic goals and stick with them. My usual inclination is to try and puff up my practice time as a way of proving to myself that I am getting more out of what I am doing. It sounds reasonable enough and in some cases i'm sure this can be helpful but I have found that I am much better off if I just set a reasonable expectation and practice based on quality instead of quantity. I am still committing to a daily practice but I am committing to one that is likely to be repeated.
Another thing that has helped me to commit to my practices and avoid distractions is to try and create rituals. I like to do some kind of visual activity that signals to my brain that I am about to focus. For example, before band practice I like to burn a little Palo Santo and take a few deep breaths with my band mates so that we are all able to acknowledge the space we are about to enter. This symbolic act usually has a very calming effect and provides a nice atmosphere for the ushering in of creativity. I do a very similar thing when I practice Zazen. I just take an extra few seconds to light an incense, acknowledge the sacred objects that are in the room and bow to the presence of the Buddha mind. Its nothing elaborate or austere, its just an intentional act that is intended to shift my awareness to a more focused state.
The last thing I like to do that helps me avoid distractions, is simply to limit my intake of external input when I know I want to get things done. This is especially true when I want to focus on writing. When I know that I want to write a blog post or work on my book, I do everything I can to avoid things like social media or television or even music (at least music with lyrics in it). My go-to for getting in the zone for writing is either to head to a quiet coffee shop some time early in the morning or to find a dark place in my house, late at night. Night is actually the best for me. Something about the darkness and the general lack of activity in the outside world allows me to direct my attention to my internal world. If I can do this, even in the moments when I really don't feel inspired, I am usually able to tap into that vibrant space of expression that is always hidden within.
Like I said before, there is no free pass (at least none that I've discovered) that will allow us to circumvent the barren lands of distraction and place us directly into the fertile soil of productivity. We really have to work for it. We really have to want it. Its kind of like cooking. Preparation and attention are crucial elements. In order to achieve the best results we have to plan things out and stick to the recipe.