Some of us approach the practice of meditation with a mistaken perception that we can only be “successful meditators” if we have total silence and zero distraction while we sit. We believe too that this includes the idea that we should not even think during meditation. I think you should welcome all of life's distractions.
After years of teaching meditation, I can tell you these are some of the biggest misperceptions about meditation. Somewhere, we got the notion that we’re “not supposed to think” during meditation and if we do, we are somehow “failing” at the practice. (I honestly can no longer count how many students have said to me “I can’t meditate” because they aren’t able to stop their thoughts from arising!)
We think that we need to set ourselves up in an environment where we can’t hear the lawnmower in the distance, birds chirping overhead, someone down the hall having a conversation, or any noise whatsoever. Or, we meditate to music or a recorded sound of a babbling brook in the background of the meditation App we’re using.
Nothing is wrong with setting up your practice this way at all.
However, I ask you to consider that without the world and all that’s in it - the sound of an airplane overhead, the beeping of a truck in reverse, and even our endless stream of thoughts - that we wouldn’t have anything to work with along the path.
All of the teachings are basically a way of shedding our ego.
So if we go about setting up the environment around us to be “just so,” we’re still operating from our ego state. Conversely, being aware of the whole environment and brining that into our basic meditation practice and discipline, allow us to become less self-centered and more in contact with the world around us. In this way, there is less reference point to “me” and the “me-ness.”
Our thoughts are not a problem, nor is the sound of someone in the next room or the ticking of a clock. In fact, without these sounds, we can’t expect to attain anything at all on the path. Think about it, if everything around you is completely blank or set up according to your view of how it’s supposed to be, we wouldn’t have any feedback, we’d have nothing to work with at all. And when we adjust the natural environment and all of its noises to suit us just so, we’re in essence not really practicing meditation at all. Instead, we’re actually practicing “our way” which still keeps the ego in play even in the contrived stillness we’ve created.
We should feel grateful to the people, obstacles, challenges and circumstances as they arise. They are the ones who are pushing us onto the path of enlightenment.
All the things taking place around our world, all of what we believe to be irritations and problems, are actually crucial to our enlightenment. Without others, we cannot even attain enlightenment or even begin to tread along the path TO enlightenment.
If we set up our meditation practice where there is no noise outside during our sit, or we hinge our “success” and “failure” in meditation on the environment we create or manipulate, there’s no way to develop mindfulness. Think about that for a moment. In your daily life, do you walk around and the entire world around you is silent? No traffic, no talking, no noise, no airplane overhead, no dogs barking, no sound whatsoever? Or in your daily life, do you only hear the sound of a babbling brook, waves crashing or rain like the sounds you can program on your meditation App? Not likely.
Without others, without noise, without distraction, we wouldn’t have the chance to develop beyond ego. So do it. Welcome all of life's distractions.
Everyone you meet is your teacher. Every circumstance and perceived obstacle is your teacher. We should feel grateful to the people, obstacles, challenges and circumstances as they arise as they are the ones who are pushing us onto the path of enlightenment. Without them, there wouldn’t be anything to work with.
The next time you sit down to meditate, I encourage you to just be. No matter what the sounds are around you, no matter what internal chatter might interrupt you, just be.
Welcome all of life's distractions. Invite noise. Invite challenge. This is where the true benefits of your meditation practice will show up. When we let go of our ego and let go of trying to change or manipulate our environment to suit us, that’s where the path exists.
The practice of meditation is about training our minds simply to allow things to be as they are, not organizing the world around us to fit our picture of what it “should” look like.
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