Years ago, I was my wife’s date to her high school reunion. Because we hadn’t grown up together, everyone there was a stranger to me. On the other hand, my wife was eager to catch up with old friends. The room was a bustling scene: a band was playing music and groups of people were talking , laughing, and dancing. As I sat in the banquet hall, I decided to challenge myself. Could I meditate, even in this lively space? While meditation is often depicted as taking place in destinations far away from the hustle and bustle of human civilization, you can actually meditate nearly anywhere. This comes as a great relief to those of us who lead busy lives in crowded places. In this blog post, I’ll teach you how to take your practice wherever life takes you.
Silence Inside the Noise
Despite the activity that surrounded me at my wife’s reunion, I was able to enter a meditative state without anyone being able to tell because my eyes were open. While my wife enjoyed connecting with friends, I was in blissful contemplation.
Until I attended the celebration, I had never been in an environment like that. I normally lead a rather quiet life, so finding a calm place to meditate is easy. But after the reunion, I realized that if I could fall into a meditative state there, I could meditate anywhere. And as the saying goes, “If I can do it, so can you!” All it takes is practice, determination, and dedication.
In my house, I have an area set aside for meditation. When I’m sitting, however, I never ask my family to be quiet. If the TV is on or music is playing, that’s fine. “How is that possible?” you may ask. The answer is simple: Find the silence in which the noise resides. Allow me to explain.
Imagine that you’re in a room with chairs, a TV, and tables in it. While these objects surround you, there is also space in which they dwell. Similarly, despite the noise that’s around you, there’s also silence. In the background, in which the noise is heard, is pure silence. Be present, attentive, and at one with that still space.
Noise Is Like Mosquito Bite
Everyone has at one point fallen prey to a bug’s bite. The moment after a mosquito or flea attacks, you have two choices: Scratch the irritated area or ignore the urge to itch. While resisting the urge to itch is challenging at first, eventually the discomfort will go away. If you live in a big city, both mosquito and non-mosquito irritants surround you all day: garbage trucks shake the earth below you, cars horns blare, and people walk by endlessly. You can choose to engage with the hustle and bustle, or you can embrace the silence in which everything arises. In order to meditate in a busy environment like this, ignore the noise around you. This doesn’t meant that you push it away. Rather you acknowledge it, and then return to your breath. Breathe deeply, slowly, and when your mind becomes distracted by the noises around you, you return to your breath pattern, mantra, or prayer word.
Another trick that I use when I’m meditating in loud places is that I slip headphones over my ears. I then focus my attention on a guided meditation or music. If you remember that your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time, you’ll recognize that it’s possible to focus on your sitting practice regardless of whatever distractions surround you.
Drown Out the Noise, Even When It’s Inside
Sometimes you’ll find yourself completely distracted during your meditation practice, despite the fact that quiet surrounds you. Your mind is running faster than is comfortable, and it feels like you have the activity level of a high school reunion going on inside you. Don’t let the distraction stop you from practicing. Instead, approach this inner noise just like you would if it were external. Don’t fight it or get mad at yourself. Rather, when thoughts arise, simply return to your breath.
When I was meditating during my wife’s high school reunion, I found silence in the noise. Even though I could still sense the activity around me, I remained in a deep, still place. The experience taught me that no matter where I was, meditation was available. This was a profound discovery. Your surroundings don’t have to be pristine or even quiet. Just focus on your prayer word, mantra, or breath. As a result, you can meditate anywhere, anytime. Presence and peace is always waiting for you.
**By Robert Puff, PhD