In his instructions on meditating in “The Anapanasati Sutta” the Buddha suggested meditators go “to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut.” While this is a lovely idea, it is not always practical. Many of us meditate with an endless stream of distractions like car alarms, snoring partners or fighting neighbors. I would like to suggest that this can be seen as a benefit to our practice. Meditating in a noisy room can help us conquer the “monkey mind” and learn how to awaken to our life just as it is.
When we first discover meditation it can feel as though we have gone crazy. Our thoughts come rushing forward, seemingly out of nowhere, with the relentless pace and volume of a waterfall.
Learning to step out of this “stream of consciousness”, to drop our thoughts and bring our focus to the breath, is already a challenging practice that demands a strong commitment and a lot of effort. How could a noisy room possibly be a benefit?
I would argue that sound is just another phenomenon like thoughts, that can be recognized and let go of, allowing us to return to following the breath. Until I started paying attention to my mind, I had no idea I was so distracted by my own thinking.
In Zen meditation we still the body, follow our breath, notice when we’re thinking, let go of the thought and return to the breath. If I can’t recognize, accept and let go of the distraction of a snoring spouse, how can I possibly let go of the nagging worry and fear about the future?
A noisy room can be our teacher. Meditating in the face of distracting sounds can strengthen our practice, helping us learn to let go of any number of unwelcome intrusions like paralyzing worries or unkind judgments. Every moment that we wake up to, that we bring the clarity of mindful awareness to, is a moment of enlightenment.
May your practice be strong!
Anthony A Cernera