The doorways of the present moment are each guarded by an elaborately simple array of distractions that works in tandem with the prayer word. These distractions are like riddles that must first be answered before the door will open. The riddles, however, are not answered by the calculating mind but by successive silences. These silences are built around a central paradox: all distractions have within them the silent depths we seek, the flowing vastness of Presence that eludes every grasp of comprehension. Therefore, distractions do not have to be of in order for them to relax their grip and reveal their hidden treasure. Such is the simplicity of paradox.
The various riddles of distraction are more or less related to the doorway we are entering. However, from the perspective of contemplative practice it doesn’t really matter what the content of the distractions is (though this may be of psychotherapeutic interest). The content of distractions will vary greatly. It could be the trivial sort of chattering to ourselves about work, shopping, planning meals, refiguring the budget, or it could be more afflictive struggles with personal pain, grief, brokenness, resentment, fear. What is important is how we meet distraction. … How we meet distraction (not whether or not we experience distractions—this is a given) is what heals and transforms as we move deeper. We may experience mere mental chatter or we may struggle with real afflictions, but to what extent these are distracting will change depending on how we meet these distractions that appear in the valley of our awareness.
The distractions we encounter are the riddles of Solomon’s sages (Prov. 1:5): they teach us, they train us, and they hold out to us the following riddles. First, are you your thoughts and feelings? Second, what do thoughts and feelings appear in? Third, what is the nature of these thoughts and feelings, and who is aware of them? Again, these riddles are not answered by our reason but by our own inner silence. We can study endless maps of the pathways into the silent land. But the map is not the territory. To discover the actual land of silence requires not information but the silence of God that is the very ground of the mind and that causes us to seek in the first place. When the distractions of each doorway call forth from us the required silence, then the distractions will have served their purpose, and the door will open.