John Dickerson is a correspondent for 60 Minutes. He is also a Contributing Editor to The Atlantic and the host of the Whistlestop podcast and co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

Automatic Beneficial Distraction

“Please use my words for your hot takes,” said Jesus never. What if the inclination to use scripture to belittle, judge and ostracize people sparked us to look inside ourselves. “Why is your hot take on the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and not about the plank in your own eye?”

I have been keen to explore the pivot from our impulses to something more valuable for some time.

Thomas Merton, in one of his conferences for the novices at Gethsemane, instructs them on St. John Cassian’s procedure for a life of constant prayer.  (It can be found in Cassian’s 10th Conference). It works like this: every time a monk has a proud or sinful thought they should turn to God, ask for his help, and hand the distraction to him. This constant turning (because the temptations of vanity and pride, at the very least, are constant) means that the monks are in a state of constant prayer.

If you are religious, this is an interesting approach that keeps you regularly in touch with your faith. The Holy Spirit can find your house if you’re always keeping the road open.

If you are not religious, this essentially is a life-hack. If you seek to be productive, more human or better informed, you can set your habit so that every time you see something small, something fueled by outrage culture, or something sizzling in the public square to tempt you into little and pointless darkness, you can immediately turn to the light. (i.e. when you’re on Twitter). Use the frivolous and unimportant bilge that sluices through social media to turn you toward something better.

The key to this pivot, says Merton, is not to dwell on the thing that is making you turn. If you look at the distraction too long you become captivated by it. You go down that rabbit hole. #queenofhearts

So, what for you, outside of religious practice, represents this place to which you would immediately turn for spiritual illumination, mental stimulation, education, entertainment or whatever else fuels your soul? For me, the secular  brainpickings for sustenance. Where would you automatically turn? (I’ll post some suggestions I get in an update to this post).

3 thoughts on “Automatic Beneficial Distraction”

  1. Nature has all our answers. It is our Creators way of giving babies road maps to follow. It is the most simplistic to understand. It is perfect in design for all things.

    David knew this: why are you mindful of me.

    We complicate the shit out of stuff.

  2. Making real food. With my husband and kids. Beloved recipes that take time. While music plays in the kitchen.

    Happy Easter, John.

  3. Multifaceted, too much? My first choice of where to turn for fuel would be to people I trusted and respected, but as my life would have it now that is a difficult option as is walking in nature. Instead I turn to music and readings I have collected on my Tumblr blog. Cooking/food, comedy and inward reflection nuture me as well.

    Thanks for asking.

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