The stress of a global pandemic has made interest in meditation skyrocket. Unfortunately, part of the stress of the pandemic is living in close, sometimes cramped, quarters with our loved ones and four-legged friends. Almost every guide to meditation tells you to start your practice by finding a comfortable position in a “quiet” spot with minimal distractions. But how do you do that in a house full of other occupants?
Earbuds, ear plugs, or white noise machines can help and turning off notifications on your phone is a must. Many meditation apps also have ambient sounds or light music to support a practice. But these options are anything but foolproof and they certainly don’t help when a relative walks into the room or, in the case of my four-year-old and miniature dachshund, plops down unannounced on your lap. Indeed, the absence of quiet can wreak havoc for a meditation session. But does it have to derail a meditation practice?
I say it doesn’t, as long as you keep perspective on the type of quiet that you are seeking. When I started my meditation practice years ago, I tried sitting practice in every remote corner of my home, including the basement and my closet, to avoid the impromptu shrieks of my toddler or the incessant barking of my dogs. I remember the frustration I felt whenever my husband unwittingly walked in on my meditation and callously disrupted my carefully but tenuously balanced “calm”. In those early days, I thought silence was calm and so was frustrated when silence was hard to find.
At some point along the way–after tolerating enough disruptions and just sitting through them–I started to see that the distractions weren’t so . . . distracting. When I heard my daughter’s voice call out while meditating, I just sat still and watched it affect me. I remember on one occasion my daughter saying something silly and noticing, in meditation-induced slow motion, a wave of laughter wash over me. It was beautiful, albeit fleeting, and if I had reacted with my customary effrontery I would have missed it. And, having had hundreds of attempts to practice calm when my dogs interrupt my quiet by barking, I now barely even react to their barking (at least when I’m meditating).
In other words, my advice to you on “finding quiet” is to give up or at least to not cling so tightly to the notion of quiet. It is hard, if not impossible, for most of us to find a quiet spot to meditate where one won’t be disturbed. But meditation is not truly about silence or erasing all distractions. Instead, the practice is about the way we respond to distractions and to ourselves as each new distraction arises. In this way, the struggle isn’t to find a perfectly quiet place, but to accept that you will never find a perfectly quiet place. As such, the only option is to cultivate quiet.
How do you cultivate quiet in a world that won’t shut up? Using supports such as music or guided meditations can help block out noise. In addition, scheduling your meditations at times when you are likely to avoid interruptions can help. If that is difficult to do in a single block of time, it might also help to try short chunks of time interspersed strategically throughout your day.
But when all of these options fail, and trust me they will, the only remaining answer is to sit and remain quiet even when the world isn’t. In other words, you try to find the quietest place you can, limit disruptions to the extent you can, and, with all the grace and kindness you can muster, you practice living with the noises and disruptions that are left.
It will be maddening at first and you may consider giving up. You may wonder to yourself, “Why am I even doing this?” My answer to this is, I hope, a bit more satisfying. You are doing it because, much like meditation, life is a combination of doing what we can to control things and accepting the rest we can’t. Each time we remain quiet in the midst of noisiness, we practice calm in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. In simpler terms, things get easier with practice because meditation is practicing ease.
If you want more quiet in your life, you have to practice quiet. So, when that guided meditation tells you to find a “quiet place”, go ahead and laugh at it for being unrealistic. Laugh at yourself for being impatient. Laugh at your kids and pets and family for being too loud. By all means, laugh whenever you can. But then go look for that quiet place because I think you can find it.
For more practical tips on finding quiet when you meditate, check out our 1-minute video and handy slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.