Monday, February 16, 2015

Distracted? Unable to Focus?

    "There were several drug and alcohol addicts in the class ... Other self-harming, addictive habits in this class included: self-cutting, shopping themselves into deep debt, sexual promiscuity, disordered eating, uncontrollable rage, workaholism, and relational addiction.
     Relational addiction plagued five students who were addicted either to a particular person or to constant interaction with other people via texting, calling, or being with others in person. They were so addicted to being in constant contact with others that they were literally not able to leave their cell phones off for an hour or be alone for any length of time.
     One of these students was a texting addict and came to my office to talk, BlackBerry in hand. She continually looked down at her BlackBerry, scanning for new text messages. At two points during our twenty minute conversation, when I was talking to her about an important matter, she typed out and sent text messages. I resisted the urge to criticize, be punitive or sarcastic about it. I could see that she could not stop herself, even though she might have wanted to. Rather than judge it, I wanted to understand the behavior. I was curious why a generally well-mannered and gracious person would do something so lacking in awareness and considerateness.
     The same question arises with any addiction. For Benjamin, I wondered: how can an intelligent, good-hearted young man, seemingly well-loved by his family, be completely unable to stop getting high, even to the point of death or jail? As the medical and psychological communities have known for decades now, it is not a matter of 'willpower.'
     I asked the texting addict: 'I noticed you kept looking at your phone and even sent two texts while I was talking to you. Can you help me understand that? It communicates that you do not care about our conversation, yet I know you do.'
     She shared, 'I know it’s annoying, but I can’t help myself. I can’t let texts just sit there without a quick response. I like to keep everything going . . . I don’t want to miss out on anything.'
     She had no awareness that she had just 'missed out' on being with me in that moment.
     Such craving leads to endless distractedness and an inability to focus on school work. It also makes it extremely difficult for the person to be present with others. The person constantly wants to be elsewhere – to get that next 'fix' of a text, an e-mail, an event, a drink, a cookie, a television show, a high of whatever sort.
     All addictive patterns turn on the same dynamic: the distractive activity is experienced as a welcome relief from real life. The negative behavior or thought pattern, as bad as it is, is believed to provide relief from the normal vicissitudes of real life. I noticed the dynamic in myself in the process of writing this article. When discomfort arose (self-doubt, fear of peer disapproval, stress over deadlines, and so forth), there was the wandering to the kitchen 'for a snack.' What is better than a handful (or two!) of homemade chocolate chip cookies to numb writer’s angst?

     Contemplative pedagogy (eg Mindfulness) is not about a goal, an outcome, or even effort. It is about being alive to the lifelong path of self-evolution – thereby becoming a beneficial presence in the world, to all beings. Isn’t that what any effective pedagogy aims to do?"

       Fran Grace. "Learning as a Path, Not a Goal: Contemplative Pedagogy – Its Principles and Practices." Teaching Theology and Religion 2011; 14 (2): 99-124.


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