Inside the mind of a procrastinating meditator

Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands.

I just did something I rarely ever do: I erased 3 paragraphs I wrote 30 minutes ago. Or 55. And in the mean time I surfed to some stupid website for the 600th time, I ate some mackerel and an avocado while standing behind the sink (too lazy to turn it into a proper meal), contemplated if I should meditate or not. Or maybe I should just give in to procrastination and read on the couch or download another episode of Game Of Thrones.

There are things I want or wanted to do today. I wanted to write a post, I want to meditate and I feel like going for a run. In between I want to eat healthy. But because I can’t really decide on a planning I have spend most of my day staring in my computer and walking to and fro the kitchen and doing some not-so-substantial emails and phone calls. Meanwhile it is 3.38 pm, can’t say that the day is still young.

I wish I could say it is just a temporary thing. That it is because I have to find my Dutch life rhythm back. But it is not. It is the story of my life.

This is something I never mentioned publicly: a couple of years ago I found out by accident that I might have something like ADD or ADHD. If I remember correctly the hyper activity doesn’t come out in a very physical way when you are smart but (could be my personal interpretation) creates a fast moving mind instead (which is called ‘creative’ or ‘original’). I still don’t know if I am ‘officially’ ADD and I thought I had good reasons not to find out (I feel that labels are destructive and undermining). But on days like this I can see my behavior and restlessness very clearly and it frustrates me. And the day I found out that these things were ‘symptoms’ of something like ADD I recalled going through this battle almost daily for so many years. I would spend hours and hours not doing my home work as child. This is the reason why I can juggle, balance a broom stick on my nose, do keepie uppies and let the ball drop dead in my neck: skills I developed while avoiding my home work.

Right now I just heard the little ping of a new email and the chances that it is something important is less than 1% but still I find it very hard not to interrupt my writing. In any other case I would have checked my inbox by now, using the beep as an excuse to distract myself. It is only because distraction is my topic of today that I didn’t look but typed this paragraph instead.

When I was hanging out with my buddy the Afghanistan vet in Vietnam he told me how he used Ritalin for a while and how clear and sharp he became when under the influence of that drug. “If you want to have a razor sharp focus for 3-4 hours in a row, that stuff is amazing” he said. He would use it when he had to write papers but also told me that he used heavy work-outs to wean himself off from it. Apparently he felt it is better to go without that stuff.

Just caught a breathe after finishing the previous paragraph and almost, almost checked my email. Phew.. close call.. But what is it? Curiosity? Or a desire to escape reality?

I think I have never been focused for 3-4 hours in my life while working alone. The only way I can do it is in interaction with people. That is the reason why I can give workshops to groups of people: I can stay concentrated and sharp all the time. My explanation is that it is because it is so dynamic that I can’t get bored (and I genuinely care about my participants). I am happy that my ‘handicap’ has provide me with a talent too. But I would love to experience the flow that computer programmers describe when they code: that they completely forget all notion of space and time. Writers (I want to say: real writers, not amateurs like me) report similar experiences. I really want to know how that feels. Also, I am not looking forward to writing a book in my usual way; hindered by internal struggle and distraction.

I am contemplating if I should give Ritalin a shot.

At the same time, coming Sunday I will go France, to attend a zen retreat (sesshin) lead by my teacher. After 2 weeks of full time meditation my concentration is excellent. I remember how I came back from a retreat and just went through my email and all my chores on my to-do list in one continuous flow. It felt almost like a dance. It was amazing. So I know that my meditation practice if of vital importance to me. And I do practice almost every day, the only thing is that I always manage to squeeze some procrastination between rising in the morning and sitting down on my cushion. Most of the time I sit somewhere between 11 am and 4 pm and I have managed to build up some sense of guilt.

The thing I want most in my life is the thing I avoided with phenomenal success: structure. I don’t have structure and I don’t have discipline. Fortunately I do have perseverance and will power to overcompensate that. Without these features I would be a seriously depressed couch potato.

It is funny, I am almost at the end of my post and I am less than 35 minutes under way. Normally it takes me at least 2 hours to type something. If I can only master the shortening of the run up and save myself the frustration and waste of time.

Tomorrow I will have dinner with my uncle. He is a psychiatrist and specializes in ADD. He thinks it runs in our family and I always discarded it as bullshit. I did not believe in the diagnosis and I did not believe somebody can suffer from it and I certainly did not believe me of my family members could ‘have it’. But this time I will ask his opinion and I might consider experimenting with medication.

This day is not completely wasted. I wrote this post and will attend my first Toastmasters meeting tonight, making a start with improving my public speaking skills. And I cleaned up the kitchen. Well.. sort of.


  1. says

    Welcome to the human race, Atalwin! The brain is designed to be distracted. It’s a safety mechanism to constantly check for danger. And modern human society is so full of distractions. As children we got used to watching Sesame Street with short snippets of action, rather than listening to someone read stories where we drift in and out of attention and constantly train ourselves to go back to our focus. It takes time and practice to train the brain to focus. When I get distracted, I think of it as the default brain process kicking in, not some weakness or failing. I don’t believe that most professional writers find it easy to focus and get words on the page. I think it’s really hard in most cases.

    At times in my life when I’ve had a really open schedule, I’ve found the easiest way for me to feel happy (which requires at least some kind of productivity) is to have a morning appointment.

    It’s funny how I want freedom, and an open, flexible schedule, and yet when I have it I want and need structure and discipline. Lately, I took the course at and started a new habit of planning 3 things to do in the day at the moment when I click to receive my morning email.

    Enjoy your zen. Lucky you. Love.


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