Let's think about one evening in an American household. Family and friends are spread out around the house, and a few people are watching TV. The television is turned up, and a cell phone rings. The owner of the phone doesn't hear the phone ring because she is jamming to her ipod tunes. The commercials are louder than the scheduled program, and the voices in the room speak above the show to be heard. The dog barks to be let out and someone is yelling from upstairs to be heard...Noise is everywhere. This might seem like the prelude to a Calgon or vacation getaway commercial, but the reality is all too common.
If you share your home with others – roommates, children, or parents there is a constant stream of distraction. There is noise at work, there is noise on the commute to work, and there is noise on lunch break...while walking the dog....while getting a cup of coffee... Our modern life is an exercise in filtering distraction and noise. With the hectic pace of modern life, we find at some point there is a need to find a still point of calm - even amongst the chaos of noise. As a mother of two young boys, I find myself searching hard for those oasis moments. How can a moment of peace be found, without the luxury of a weekend at The Mountain or some planned escape.
The good news is that you can. There is a practice for meditating in noise, finding peace amidst chaos.
As a part of staff worship a few weeks ago, I was blessed with the chance to do just that. UUCA's Business Manager graciously planned a worship exactly around how to find sacred and meditative space amidst noise and chaos. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, with the traffic busy as ever on the 85 access ramp, a few of the staff tromped down to the Fern Creek preserve. Visually the trail down to the creek is idyllic with green and water surrounding you, yet there is a discordant sensation with the rush of traffic noise from the access ramp. It is surprisingly very noisy by the side of such a lovely creek! Sitting on towels and benches, we began our urban meditation under the written directions of Mike Suzuki, a writer of meditation resources.
At first it was disconcerting and disorienting to be among nature and still be under the onslaught of traffic noise. There is a trick to this. Suzuki writes that the key to meditating in a noisy environment is to change the way you think about noise. Rather than letting the external sounds distract them from your meditation, use them in your meditation. We are surrounded by the music of the world, whether birdsong or traffic noise. In an essence it is one more recognition of our part in the interdependent web of life, urban life is as much a part of that web as the flowing creek. Trying to separate ourselves from is not always a successful or easy tactic, as a parent of young children I can speak to that.
It is very hard to separate ourselves from noise and busyness, the key is to change how we integrate that noise. What do we do with it?
One suggestion that Mike Suzuki gives is to try and sit calmly and just listen to the noise. Sometimes, we can't help but listen. Let the sounds fill your head. Focus on the tones and vibrations of the sound rather than their origin.
All sound – whether distracting like a buzz saw, a crying child, or a barking dog – or even calming like a bubbling stream – are just vibrations. When the noise is broken down to its components, you can focus on the deep underlying vibrations. When you choose how to integrate the sound or how that sound makes you feel, then you have the power for it to be a calming sound.
There is also an acceptance. By the stream during that staff worship, I could not make the sound of traffic go away. It was amazing how as I accepted the rush of traffic, other sounds also became apparent. I could hear the water more clearly and I was attuned to other urban noises. A lot of times we might try and drown out unpleasant noise with music or white noise, yet even this is not full proof against soft points in songs or really insistent outside noise.
In order to meditate in this kind of space, you need to acknowledge and coexist with the sounds that are with you. Along with this acceptance, there is also certainly a need for patience. This is not a practice that will happen right away, and frustration can easily come up.
Yet there are countless reasons why we deserve to give ourselves a bit of peace during the stretch of a busy and stressful day. Don't give up! This method of meditation can work, and add more peace and calm to an otherwise noisy and stressful time. Whether by Fern Creek or in your car at lunch, make times for that still point. Make time for yourself to carve out that moment of stillness and meditation, regardless of bulldozers and chatty coworkers.
A square inch of silence is a square inch of peace.