Many people think that meditation requires a lovely setting, preferably in nature, where all our senses can fill with pleasurable stimuli. People who have experienced meditation often emphasise the challenge of living in busy cities, with noise and vibration of all the machines penetrating our body and mind. This is true; it is perhaps more challenging to shift the attention inwards with such intense distractions everywhere around.
A whole range of old spiritual teachings, and recently E. Tolle in "The Power of Now", says that whatever situation we presently find ourselves in, if we cannot act to change it, we need to internally accept it*. As long as we resist the way things are, our mind fluctuations are high, and THAT is what keeps us unable to concentrate. It is not the situation or the stimuli around us; it is our reaction to it that prevents us from finding inner peace. If, instead, we embrace the moment as it is, we are likely to discover that the silence we long for is actually inside us, has always been and always will be. For the calm, aware presence is our true nature. This inner silence is undisturbed not only by the external conditions, but also by whatever noise goes on in our very mind. It is the silence BEHIND the thoughts.
Thus, anything else than full acceptance of the present moment tends to make the mind wonder. We feel as if this “disturbs” the meditation process. If, at the end of your yoga class, just as you are about to relax in Savasana you hear a loud noise of a car horn or a truck passing right by the studio, try the following.
- Acknowledge the sound.
- Acknowledge the hearing sense that detects the sound.
- Watch your reaction. If you detect crunching in any part of your body, that's the inner resistance.
- Relax that part. Let the tight area expand by accepting the noisy vibration.
- Be aware of your thoughts that may arise, such as "where did this sound come from?" (past) or "will it get even louder?", "when will it be over?" (future). All this analysis takes the mind away from the present moment and causes further frustration.
Most people can become aware for a few moments but then tend to shift back to the identification with the mind easily. What can be done about that? How will you will maintain the awareness if it first detects a feeling, or alternatively, a if it detects a thought? These two are analysed below.
You may first become aware of a feeling - discomfort, anxiety, anger, shrinking feeling inside the chest, abdomen or elsewhere. Become aware of how a feeling triggers thoughts. Common thinking pattern is "I hate this noise", "These cars cause so much pollution, no wonder we are all crazy in this city" etc. If you already exercise "watching your feelings" you may think "Oh darn, here I am again, feeling this anger and resistance that I shouldn't be feeling" or "I should be better at acceptance by now" etc. This will only take you out of the awareness you felt for a few moments and back into identification with the mind. It feeds back the emotion and creates a vicious circle.
Instead of that, when you become aware of the emotion, stay in the present moment, conscious of the emotion but without condemnation. It is easier not to judge it when you realise that the feelings happen to your body and mind, but are not essentially You. To realise this doesn't mean to "think it". Rather it means "to know" with your deep inner wisdom, which only comes forth when you are NOT thinking.
Alternatively, you may first become aware of a thought. The procedure is similar - bring awareness to it. There is a world of difference between letting the thoughts BE (being aware of the thoughts our mind produces), and BEING the thoughts (taking our mind as who we are).
"Here comes that truck that will surely get me out of my relaxation", or "I will have to practice that presence and stillness again, when all I want to do is relax". Become aware of how the thought triggers an emotion. Become aware of the personalisation in the thinking. "Me", "I" "Mine"and so on. The thoughts that cause intense feelings inevitably carry the ego element. The ego sees everything as personal, and thrives on complaining. But to realise this, and then condemn it: "This ego of mine again, I don't know what to do with it anymore!" and next "I am condemning my ego when I'm supposed to be neutral" is just more and more ego, more mental noise. The initially detected thought turns into the stream of thoughts. Instead, as you become aware of the first thought "Here comes that truck that will surely get me out of my relaxation", you may ask yourself "Can I allow this to be?", or "The situation is such (noisy). What is my reaction to it?" and then observe the body sensation and feelings.
Another way is to add the breath to the spectrum of senses. "How is my breathing at this moment?" Become aware of your inner space. The more you practice this, the easier and more automatic it will become. You may even feel inner expansion the louder the surrounding sounds become.
Distinguishing between the situation and your reaction to it means that you become a witness. And whenever you become a witness, an observer, you are no longer identified with the thinking mind. This is how the awakening begins.
So, when presented by various challenges like noise, it is good to remember that the most challenging situations offer the biggest opportunity for change. We can either nag about the noisy city, or shift to the level of no good sounds or bad sounds, just sounds, vibration coming and going, the city music following us on our path of transformation.
* Experiencing inner acceptance does not mean that we need to passively accept whatever comes our way – e.g. abusive relationships, unwanted jobs etc. It does not mean that we stop wishing to change the unfair things in this world, or even our own unpleasant habits. We do not stop wanting to change and to grow...On the contrary, it means that we make ourselves more capable of bringing about true change. We fully recognise, comprehend, and come into terms with the situation as it presently is. This shifts us from the place of resistance - complaining, denial, regret, shame, anger, fear - to the place of acceptance. From this place, we can act more appropriately - we can make more objective, fruitful and sober action towards changing the situation. We can finally stop mentally and psychologically tormenting our selves about the situation, and actually do something about it.