Recently, a friend of mine who is exploring meditation jokingly asked on Facebook how she was supposed to comply with the instructions of a guided meditation to “find a quiet place” where she wouldn’t “be disturbed.” Yeah right, commenters agreed, if we could find a “quiet place” and avoid being “disturbed” on demand, we probably wouldn’t need meditation.
I instantly sympathized with this plight. When I started my own practice, I tried out meditation 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 it was quiet I was seeking or maybe chasing.
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 paid attention to how it affected me. I remember on one occasion my daughter saying something silly and noticing, in a meditation-induced slow motion, a wave of laughter wash over me. It was beautiful, albeit fleeting, and if I had reacted with my customary affrontary 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, while my friend may have been exasperated, confused, or just laughing at her own situation, she’s wiser than she knows. In fact, it is harder than it seems to find a quiet place to meditate where one won’t be disturbed. The truth is that it is a huge part of the struggle. The struggle, of course, isn’t to find a perfectly quiet place; the struggle is acceping you will never find a perfectly quiet place. Rather, the only option is to cultivate quiet.
How do you cultivate quiet in a world that, as my friend pointed out, won’t shut up? Unfortunately, the answer is not quite satisfying, not right away at least. The answer is to sit and remain quiet even when the world isn’t. In other words, as the guided meditation suggested, you try to find the quietest place you can, you try to 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. To the extent we build quiet in the midst of noisiness, we build calm in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. In simpler terms, things get easier with practice.
If you want more quiet in your life, you have to practice quiet. So, when that guided meditation tells you to find a “quiet space”, go ahead and laugh at it. Laugh at yourself. By all means, laugh whenever you can. But try to do what it says too and see what happens.