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Distractions and Attention in Mental Prayer: Understanding Our God-given Brains

Updated: May 14

Many times, I hear from directees who say they have trouble sitting for an hour for mental prayer. And during that time, they describe having many distractions, and are exhausted in  trying to control what is happening and feel discouraged for not doing it right.


The Brain/Body Mind

In looking at how the brain and the mind functions, there is much we do not know, for it will always be a mystery. Yet today we can observe more how God designed us -  for there are many clinical or non-clinical considerations that affect one’s initiative and activity.  There may be health reasons where pain or certain disabilities prevent a lengthy time frame of sitting in silence.  We have to remind ourselves as Fr. Phillipe writes, all is grace for prayer is not a method or ever restricted to time.


Prayer where our heart meets Heart


Interior (Mental) prayer can occur at any time, and for any length of time for it rises from the heart from the grace of the invitation where the heart and Heart meet.

Beginners to certain prayer methods, may need to become familiar with a few physiological limitations. There are neuroplastic changing that must take place in the brain over a period of time. It takes practice for the brain (with the mind) to build up to a length of time to stay attentive quietly.

That is why it is an iterative process starting with 10 minutes and adding additional time little by little.


Attention & Distraction

Our brains naturally wander, it’s called mind wondering where the mind easily slips back into the past then forward into the future, into the present, makes a detour on a different topic and starts another journey into the future.

It takes a practice of awareness to notice where we’ve been, and how we can bring ourselves back to the center,  the center of our soul where hearts( the soul) touch. (The more we practice, the time between the wandering and noticing becomes less and less.) Soon those wanderings are less frequent, and those intrusive thoughts become less distracting.


Discernment of Spirits

 Thoughts and images will always flow in and out because our brain is always working in the background, it’s never sleeps.

We need be aware – the discernment of spirits is operational here.  If these are thoughts are of God we respond in interior conversation; and if they are our own and distraction, we let them flow in and flow out  -if not a distraction  we bring them to God; and if the thoughts are of the enemy, we are to ignore them and say a prayer, then give no notice and return to the place that you last felt consoled. 


Many are able to listen attentively or notice more interiorly while externally focusing on an icon or attending adoration; and find it is as if time stands still – it is two different sections of our brain are operational.


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