Welcome to

Beyond Distraction: Five Practical Ways to Focus the Mind

A Wisdom Academy Online Course with Shaila Catherine

Learn how to overcome distraction in meditation practice and develop clarity in your relationships, work, and other activities in this course with highly respected teacher, author, and jhana expert Shaila Catherine.

About this Course

The mind can be a potent tool to spark extraordinary achievements, inspire good works, and advance toward spiritual realization. However, it can also produce thoughts that lead to suffering. For many people, thoughts run rampant and seem to oppress or control their lives. The Buddha tells us that before enlightenment, he sometimes found his mind preoccupied by thoughts connected with desire, ill will, and harm. Through meditation, he figured out how to respond to thoughts skillfully and developed a step-by-step approach to calm the restless mind.

Insight meditation teacher Shaila Catherine offers an accessible approach to training the mind, guided by the Buddha’s pragmatic instructions on removing distracting thoughts. Drawing on two scriptures in the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Shaila shows how to overcome habitual modes of thinking, develop deeper concentration, and discover insights into emptiness that are vital for a liberating spiritual path.

Following the Buddha’s pragmatic approach, Shaila guides you through five steps for overcoming distraction and focusing the mind:

  1. Replace unwholesome thoughts with wholesome thoughts.
  2. Examine the dangers of distracting thoughts.
  3. Learn to avoid it, ignore it, forget it. 
  4. Investigate the causes of distraction.
  5. Apply determination and resolve.

Each lesson includes readings and meditations to help you cultivate these five steps to deeper concentration. You’ll learn about your mind and develop your ability to direct your attention more skillfully in meditation and daily activities.

Discover for yourself how these five steps lead to one key realization:

In the moment you recognize that a thought is just a thought, you will find yourself on the path to a life of remarkable freedom.



Lesson 1: Lost in Thought and Knowing Your Own Mind

Shaila observes that the mind can be a potent tool, but can also produce thoughts that lead to suffering. By allowing all thoughts to settle through meditation, you can reap the benefits of an undistracted, still mind.


Lesson 2: Antidotes and Alternatives

To prevent unwholesome thoughts from inhibiting your capacity to be genuinely present for life, practice replacing harmful thoughts. The strategy of replacement is a classic method for addressing hindrances.


Lesson 3: Weighing the Costs

Distracting thoughts can be defused by clearly identifying their harmful effects. As meditative skill develops, thoughts settle, and mindfulness and concentration come forward to support progress on the spiritual path.


Lesson 4: Withdrawing the Fuel

With concentration and clear intention, you can learn to pull your attention away from unwholesome thoughts, and from the signs that trigger them. At times, a skillful withdrawal might be the wisest choice.


Lesson 5: Unraveling the Causes

By understanding the causal conditions that feed mental proliferation, you will be able to withdraw the fuel that feeds destructive thought patterns. Effective meditative investigation is supported by calmness and curiosity.


Lesson 6: Saying No and Meaning It

Strong resolve expresses your heartfelt allegiance and eagerness to progress on your path. Asserting your determination aligns your thoughts with your goals.


Lesson 7: Applying the Five Strategies—A Complete Training Sequence

Following the Buddha’s pragmatic approach, Shaila provides guidance through a complete training sequence for overcoming distraction and focusing the mind.


Lesson 8: Mastering Your Mind—Moving Toward Liberation

Minds free from distraction have the potential to experience states of deep concentration and liberating insights. This clear, mindful encounter with experience moves us beyond distraction, toward a realization of the empty nature of things.

About the Teacher

Shaila Catherine has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught insight meditation since 1996 in the U.S. and internationally. Shaila has dedicated several years to studying with masters in India, Nepal and Thailand, completed a one-year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Shaila Catherine has practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw since 2006; she authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to Western practitioners. She is the founder of Bodhi Courses, an online dhamma classroom, and Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley.