Meditating With Noise: A Comprehensive Guide to Being Still in a Chaotic Environment
At last, it’s that time of the day again—a time for mediation. So you steal a small chunk of the moment from the world and give it to yourself. Of course, it has to be perfect, so you go to your meditation place. Perhaps you even went so far as to set up your shrine and light up cinnamon-scented incense as you sit on a comfy cushion on the floor, preparing to submerge yourself in tranquillity.
But then you hear a siren from an ambulance, dogs barking in the neighbourhood, cars honking from afar, and the sound of heavy traffic outside of your home. In an instant, it seems as if all the sounds of the city simultaneously rushed in to take away your mediation time. We know it’s upsetting when this happens, but there’s a way to solve this problem. Hint: it’s not about stopping the noise.
Tips for Dealing With External Noise
Noise during meditation is unavoidable. It can happen at any moment during your practice, and it can derail you from what you’re trying to achieve—calmness and focus. If you’re feeling helpless and upset about not having your moment of peace, try these tips in your next noise-filled meditation session.
Rethink Your Session Goals
Most of us who are starting out with meditation have similar goals. Every time we sit still, we immediately think of the desired end: reducing stress, gaining focus, and achieving a calm and alert state. All these are valid goals, but should we think of them as such?
When we set to think of these results as something to be had at a future point during or after meditation, we get attached to the outcome, so we tend to focus more on manifesting it. And when we focus on the result we want to have, the obstacles that get in our way, such as noise, become a pressing matter.
It’s essential that you rethink your goal for the next session. Instead of having the intention of reducing stress, getting focus, or achieving a calm and alert state, make it a goal instead to be fully in the here and now. That way, your practice won’t be bogged down by desires to produce a positive result.
Acknowledge it as Sound
It’s easy to see noise as a distraction. If it’s something we can’t use or doesn’t make sense to us, we search our minds for a label to fit the uncooperative sound so we can deal with it accordingly. For example, while meditating, we may hear our neighbours’ dogs barking or a revving motorcycle passing by. It registers as noise in our ears, and then we get distracted and find ways to try to empty the mind so we can focus.
If you think about it, these “noises” that we hear during our meditation are just sounds. And sounds are a part of life. It lets you know you hear things well. So if you want to stay focused on your meditation, stop thinking that all the noise you hear is actually noise. Think of it as just sounds of normal, everyday life. Try it, and you’ll get a better experience.
Another thing we do when we meditate with noise around us is we resist it. We think to ourselves, “ugh, there’s that neighbour’s dog again,” or “Oh god, please make it stop.” These resisting thoughts exacerbate the situation to a point where we will want to stop meditating.
As part of the practice of acknowledging environmental noise as sound, you also have to align your thinking with it. Instead of thinking thoughts that resist, try thinking thoughts of acceptance. Think, “oh, it’s a sound,” every time noise comes up. This conditions your mind into a calmer state and puts a stop to persistent secondary thoughts that pollute your meditation session.
Take It All In, Then Let It Go
Once you’ve learned to stop your recurring resistant thoughts about noise, it’s time to learn how to welcome it. You can start by taking a deep breath while picturing in your mind’s eye the sounds around being taken in as if you’re inviting it for a dance. Next, hold your breath for at least four seconds while you envision the sound moving within you. Support this with a welcoming thought such as, “I’m dancing with sound.”
After four seconds, exhale slowly and let go of it. Imagine the sound leaving your body, purified. Think to yourself, “I’m letting go of sound,” and let your body relax as you exhale.
Do this every time you breathe deeply, and you’ll improve your next session.
Prepare to observe
At some point in your session, you’ll stop consciously taking deep breaths and you’ll settle to your natural breathing state. This is an opportunity for you to observe, not just the external sounds, but also your thoughts and feelings—the internal noise.
Follow the same instructions given in the deep breathing exercise. Except now, you’ll have to do it naturally. Observe your thoughts and feelings about internal and external noises with every inhale. Then naturally, let go of the thought as you exhale. Imagine the thoughts being expelled out of your mind and body as you breathe out.
Invasive Noises and Practical Ways of Dealing With Them
Not all noises behave the same. We get that life is dynamic and some auditory disturbances literally invade your meditation. It can be so intense and so direct you’ll have sessions wherein you threw in the towel and feel bad about how you handled it.
That’s okay. It’s life, and you’re a human being. Instead of ruminating on the bad session, look forward to the next one, and be sure to apply these practical tips to work your way around it.
People Talking Loudly
One common invasive noise is people talking. You’ll experience this when you try to meditate in a crowded space such as public transportation systems, condo units, and even the park. People talking loudly get to us because we get curious, especially when they’re a bit vague. You think, “are they talking about how weird it is that I’m just sitting here with my eyes closed?” or perhaps you’re tuning out everything so you can eavesdrop on the conversation.
When this invasive noise occurs, you can deal with it by acknowledging the conversation and telling yourself that it’s not part of your practice. Turn your observation inward to your body, specifically the breath, and follow it instead. Every time you hear people talking again, just let it be, welcome it. If you understood what they’re talking about, splendid! Now, acknowledge it and then let it go along with your breath as you tell yourself, “not my concern.”
A note about danger: if you understood the conversation as a warning that poses a physical risk to you or the environment you’re in, then pack up and leave immediately.
Meditating in almost radio silence is very soothing until mosquitos invade that silent space with a touch of chaotic buzzing. This insect won’t stop there—it’ll rub it in by getting really close to your ears. This can get very annoying fast.
You can turn this around by using the mosquito’s noise as your anchor. Try switching your attention from your breath or body to the buzzing sound. Unlike other noise pollution, buzzing sounds are mild and easy to integrate into your practice. Try it and give your session a new flavour.
Someone Ringing Your Mobile Phone
Mobile phone calls are types of invasive noise that you can prevent. Before you sit down to meditate in silence, switch your phone to silent. Then, if someone called and you missed it because you’re meditating, you can call them back.
Suppose it’s not possible to switch to silent because you’re expecting an important call. Place your mobile phone next to you before you do your meditation. If someone calls you, you can immediately stop your session and take the call. On the flip side, once the call ends, you can also start over your meditation quicker.
Crying Baby / People Interrupting You
The sound of a crying baby is always urgent. It’s a beck of a vulnerable human being that needs adult assistance. If this happens mid-meditation, acknowledge that your baby is non-negotiable. Slowly ease into getting out of the meditative state and attend to your child.
The same principle applies to people when they interrupt you with something. Please avoid telling them to keep quiet and move away. Instead, ease out of the meditation, attend to their concern, and once it’s finished, you can start over. As a bonus, you can ask them to join you. Meditation is fun when it’s shared.
Your next-door neighbour is doing some heavy interior renovation, and you hear the loud thumping of the hammer’s head on the plywood. You hear this for about five minutes, then it stops and starts again. You get surprised and annoyed every time.
Noises like the hammer pounding a surface are predictable, which means you can work with it. To avoid seeing it as a distraction, take it in by counting off each instance of nail-smashing noise. Then, visualize the number you ended with and slowly let it fade away from your mind along with the movement of your breath.
Journey to Meditating Anywhere: Quick Meditation Steps
The idea of meditation with noise is to ultimately get to a level wherein you can meditate anywhere because noises don’t bother you anymore. It’s amazing to have the skill to do a quick check-in with yourself without having to be picky with the place or time.
Meditating anywhere effectively requires practice. And you can start small by doing quick 2 to 3 minute sessions around noisy environments. Take note of these tips and apply them.
Find a Comfortable Space
Meditating anywhere has to make sense. You can meditate anywhere, but you still have to find a good spot. It has to be a space that enables you to hang back uninterrupted. So find a comfortable space—the back of the car, your own office cubicle, the bedroom in your house, or beside a tree in a park. These spaces are good retreats for a quick mediation.
Get Comfortable With Different Meditation Postures
Most meditation starts with you sitting comfortably, but did you know you can also stand? You can even meditate while walking.
The point is, you want to be comfortable, not just with sitting upright because meditating anywhere means sitting may not be an option. If you want to do a quick meditation while you’re in an elevator at 7 a.m., it will be weird to do it in a sitting position. So get comfy standing still and closing your eyes for a couple of minutes to unlock your elevator-mediation skill.
Start With Deep Breaths
To prime yourself, always start with deep breaths while your eyes are open. Practice doing this whenever you feel the need to meditate outside or while trying to find a space. This way, you’ve already started conditioning your mind and body for the main mediation.
Close Your Eyes
Once you find the right moment, gently close your eyes. Allow the environment to be what it has to be. Take in the noise of life and treat it as part of meditation. This becomes more effective with your eyes closed because it amplifies your sense of hearing.
Bring in Your Body
About a minute deep into the meditation, bring your body in. Observe how it feels, is it tensed or relaxed? There’s no need to change how your body feels. You just have to be aware of it and use it as your anchor to tune out the noise from the environment.
At the end of the session, open your eyes and reflect on any thoughts, physical, and emotional sensations that occurred during your session. Reflect on what you have experienced, but avoid judging it as good or bad.
Get a Meditation Boost
Setting out on a journey to meditate anywhere will be challenging. In addition to environmental noise, your body and mind’s energy and enthusiasm may swing back and forth depending on how your day is going.
More so, being able to meditate anywhere requires commitment. If you have the desire but you are low on energy and focus, consider getting a boost. Check out this Focus + Energy nootropic supplement made by Neat Nutrition. Its plant-based ingredients, such as Cordyceps and Ginseng, can help you summon and maintain the concentration you need to meditate with noise.
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