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How to Address Distractions in Prayer

Many times, I hear from directees who say they have trouble sitting for an hour for Lectio, mental prayer, or a meditation in the spiritual exercises. During that time due to so many distractions, they describe trying to control their attention becoming exhausted and discouraged desiring to give up for 'not doing it right'.

What We Need to Know About How God Designed Our Brain

In looking at how the brain and the mind function, 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 prayerful silence. We have to remind ourselves as Fr. Jacques Phillipe writes in "Time for God", all is grace for prayer is not a method or even restricted to time.

Time: 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 ( physical organ) and Heart ( the center where we feel our soul) meet. Beginners to certain prayer methods may need to become familiar with the basic of and their own 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.

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

Wandering: Attention and Practice: Our brains naturally wanders, it’s called 'mind wandering' 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 to focus on God within. (The more we practice, the less time frequent our mind wanders and the time to notice we drifted becomes less and less.) Soon those 'intrusive' thoughts become less intense and distracting.

The Brain/Mind/Soul Distractions: Thoughts and images will always flow in and out because our brain is always on working in the background, it never sleeps.

We need to be aware – the discernment of spirits are operating here.

  • if they are our own and not a distraction, we let them flow in and flow out, for our 'mind wandering' is operating here

  • if they become a distraction we bring them to God

  • If these are thoughts are of God we respond i

  • if the thoughts are of the enemy, we offer a prayer for help, then ignore them and 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 that are operational.

“There is room for a certain amount of initiative and activity on the human side, the whole edifice of the life of prayer is built upon God’s initiative in his grace. We must never lose site of that fact for one of the permanent and sometimes subtle temptations of the spiritual life is to rely on our efforts and not on God freely given mercy.” p11


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