I’m reading a wonderful book by an Anglican deacon named Una Kroll; it’s called Vocation to Resistance: Contemplation and Change. It’s about how the contemplative life is, in essence, a life of resistance — choosing an alternative to the noisy, acquisitive, competitive, and violent nature of the world we live in. It’s a charming and insightful read.
I was thinking about quoting Kroll’s insightful discussion of distractions during prayer, but to do her justice it would have to be a rather long quote, too long for fair use. So I’ll just give you a quick summary of my understanding of her thoughts.
Basically, she suggests that the key to dealing with distractions is to step back from them, and envision what God is doing in and with the very distractions themselves.
What I have found most helpful is to look for what God is doing in the immediate moment. This involves seeing two images at once. One sees the distracting image or thought clearly: simultaneously, one sees what God is being and doing in that situation.
She goes on to encourage her reader that this requires the “knack” of doing two things at once, and she offers several examples of why this is not so difficult a thing to do (driving while listening to the radio; reading a book while knitting; etc.). So in prayer, when distractions arise, Kroll invites us not to resist them, or even to ignore them, but, as it were, to give them to God, allowing the mind’s eye to see what God is doing with and in the very stuff of our distractions.
So, if you’re worried about a confrontation with a co-worker — imagine the loving presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the difficult discussion. If you’re entranced by a new romance, reflect on how the love you feel for your sweetheart finds its ultimate origin in the Divine Mystery. Even if you’re just mentally singing your favorite song or revisiting your favorite passage in a Harry Potter book, allow those mental diversions to become arenas for deepening intimacy with God.
Granted, this qualifies as more of a kataphatic, than apophatic, form of prayer. If you are committed to silent contemplation, then at some point even the mental consideration of God’s action may have to be gently laid under the cloud of forgetting. But in the meantime, this strategy might well be a deeply prayerful way to tame the monkey mind — or, at least, to give its incessant chatter to the source of all love.