I recently came across this line by T.S. Elliot that says “Distracted from Distraction by Distraction”. Of course this is apart of a larger work called “Burnt Norton”. Here’s a small snippet for context:
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
It had me thinking that the natural human tendency is to be addicted to something distracting at any given time. There are addictive behaviors in anything that gives us a dopamine hit resulting in those wonderful feelings of pleasure. What distracts us at the time can be quite transient through our lives. For me personally, it changes almost yearly as I start to get more clear with my goals and purpose.
What I believe the real lesson here is that we are distracting ourselves with surface level behaviors that ultimately distracts our ego’s purpose, and that of course distracts our unconscious calling. Enough words, here’s an example.
Imagine you’re Hercules. But not the original that goes mad and kills everyone before embarking on his labours. Let’s keep it more grounded as if it was the Disney movie. Through Hercule’s hero’s journey there are many acts. You as the viewer know from the beginning that Hercules is destined to be a god on Mount Olympus.
But you start to see the major transitions as Hercules grows up and gets clearer on this inner calling. First he’s doing things he has absolutely no interest in, which is being a farm-hand to his adopted father. Now this is the first stopping point. This is the first level of distraction. What if we get stuck at this level of doing something we simply don’t care about and could live our lives just fine with it? Think about it.
Next, Hercules ego kicks in, he realizes how powerful he is when his ability is revealed to the world. He realizes that he cannot go back to what he once was because he serves a greater purpose than just farm work. Instead he embraces his ego which consists of rigorous trials and training. This leads to him being one of the most famous people and even merchandise & homage to our modern day celebrities. This is the second layer of distraction. What if we find distraction through fame & fortune, yet that still holds us back from our ultimate calling. You can stay comfortable as long as you want, but you will never be comfortable knowing there’s more you can do.
Finally, Hercules realizes the ego is holding him back from his true purpose of being a god. Of course his riskiest confrontation is that of going to the underworld and rescuing his love. Yet, he succeeds and so wraps up his hero’s journey of being declared a god. This is the third layer of distraction. At this point, I believe most people are at ease. They have realized their potential and continue to perform at that level.
Now this is all to say that this happens in our everyday lives. We get stuck. We get stuck in jobs we hate and have no passion for. We get stuck in our 15 minutes of fame and holding onto it for as long as possible. We get stuck at getting to that next level and realizing our true potential.
This isn’t to say you have to be the next hercules to realize your calling. Many people have already found their callings and do not have fame nor fortune and yet they are truly happy. I’d say that many of us are still lost souls looking for answers. Looking for the moment to get to the next level. Waiting for that mentor to step into our lives and show us there’s a better way.
There is a constant state of distraction at each of these levels. At the first level, you might be distracted by all the comparison you’re doing of your current position to those online seen through your social media usage. At the second level, you might be distracted by all the likes, follows, and more coming your way that’s incentivizing you to keep doing what you’re doing.
This is to say that distraction has been around as long as we’ve given it a written word. The behavior of being distracted has been around since humans could get distracted. The question in my head becomes whether we are stuck being distracted by the distraction, or whether we are embracing the very distraction in front of our eyes. That’s to say, if we’re at one level of distraction and mimetically wanting what another person at another level has, we are only distracting ourselves from actually achieving that.