Using Noise During Meditation

Utilize distraction

There is a tendency to believe a quiet and soothing location is an unconditional requirement to practice meditation. This can greatly limit your practice. The truth is otherwise, Meditation and other connection practices can be applied anywhere.

The teacher asked the student:
– Are you ready to give up this world, and live in a mountain retreat on a basic diet?
– Yes, I am!
– You see, you still feel that to find knowledge, you must seek a solitary life away from impure things. This is a primitive attitude, one satisfactory for savages!

— Raphael Lefort – The Teachers of Gurdjieff

One can utilize surrounding noise instead of being annoyed or distracted by it. The key is to distinguish, count, identify the sounds you hear.

This technique is inspired by a Theravadan practice of absorbing external distractions and making them objects of focus until they cease and the practitioners can return to watching their breath.

Once in your favorite meditation pose, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you.
One or two sounds may be immediately obvious, because they are constant and loud enough, such as an A/C unit or outside traffic.

Ideally, it would be the gurgling of a nearby stream but those are rare in urban settings.

  • Some sounds may be intermittent, such as a bird singing or a plane flying by.
  • Some sounds may be random like your cat hanging out next to you licking its fur.

Give each sound a short name, “A/C”, “traffic”, “bird”, “plane”, “cat”, etc.
Then loop through that checklist.

  • Do I hear the A/C? Yes. Checked
  • Do I hear traffic? Yes. Checked
  • Do I hear a plane? Nope. Checked
  • Repeat

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When a new sound suddenly appears, catch it, name it. This new sound is now part of your mental list.

At first, it may be difficult to pay attention to more than two or three sounds but you can quickly increase that number to seven or nine. With attention, it becomes amazing how many distinct sounds may be around us.

You can refine the distinction between the kinds of birds, the kinds of traffic —trucks, cars, bikes— or their respective source —front, back, left or right.

After a few minutes of focusing on the subtleties of surrounding noise, your awareness will be hundredfold.

Meditation is simpler than we often think.

Happy practice!