If you often drive, you would often notice that when you are driving, you would often look around your surroundings. Maybe during a road trip, you see some interesting sights along the way, and you decided to get off. This is good if the trip is long. However, we must not wander off and forget our destination. We may be caught up with what we are seeing at the moment, that we lose sight of where we are going. In the end, we may not reach our destination on time. Sometimes, our companions may not be happy too, for those who are very strict on timings.
Once I was on a trip with my friends. Everything was going great. When it was time to head back to the ferry, some of us were distracted by food stalls along the way to the pier. We had to remind them that the ferry won't wait for us. To add on to the importance of getting to the ferry, it was the only ferry back from where we were. If we miss that ferry, we will have to wait until the next morning for the ferry to fetch us over. As we were running out of time, we had to pull our friends away from the distractions on the side. It was lucky that we got on the ferry on time.
This is one example of staying on task when the time requires it. If we had more time to spare, looking around the stalls on the way would not be a problem. But the problem is we do not. What I want to say is, sometimes, we lose our focus even on the simplest of things, like getting to the pier. Little things like this build up into habits. These habits are actions that we subconsciously do, without knowing. We may have some uncontrollable habits, like biting nails, shaking legs when we sit down, or being distracted by our surroundings.
On a more spiritual level, we may start off to be hardworking, setting time aside every day to practice. It could be meditation, prostration, chanting sutras, reading sutras, commentaries, books, or articles. It could be anything. The motivation that drives us is good. However, the challenge comes when we start losing our focus after a week, a month, two months, six months, or a year. At this time, we may start feeling very comfortable, and start being complacent. This is the time we have bring up our motivation again. The moment we feel or think that there is nothing more to it, remember how and why we started out this homework or practice.
Sometimes it could be that we experienced some kind of response from our practice. For example, in meditation, we may start having better attention in what we do, or better memory in fact. At this time, we may think that meditation has such benefits, I want to experience more of this benefit. So, instead of going forward with what we originally plan to do with meditation, we took a side trip, to want to experience more of these benefits. It is at this time that we are already off the main road. This is the time we have to pull ourselves back like how we pulled our friends back on track.
Of course, this happens to everyone, but more importantly, are we able to recognize that we went off course? If so, how should we pull ourselves back on track? If we can't pull ourselves back on track, what should we do then? Sometimes there is no definite answer for this. What works for me may not work for you. We have to explore our options. But here's my perspective on getting back on track:
If you notice that you are getting distracted, it's a good start. Stop whatever you are doing (unless you are in a hurry to get to somewhere), and be in that distracted moment.
If you did not notice that you are getting distracted, that's another good start too! Why? because your not noticing, itself, is already awareness. Be in that moment of not noticing for a moment
If you can pull yourself back to what you are originally doing, go ahead.
I you can't pull yourself back to what you are originally doing, find something else other than your distraction. Find something new to do. Do not go back to your distraction. While this may be counter-intuitive, it may work for some of us.
We must not forget the trip we set out for. Side stops could be beneficial for us to rest, take a look. However, at the end, we must still pick up the pace and move forward towards our destination. During the stop, we could rest, find our motivation again, find a new route, or reflect what we have gone through.