It’s the year 2010. One of my dear yogic friends and I decide it’s time to escape the city, shake off the busy-ness of our lives and head off to a Krishna Das retreat at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge Massachusetts. We are mostly there for retreat, for rest and relaxation. There is no one needing anything from us, no ‘should’s’ and ‘should not’s,’ …..no ‘ought to’ and ‘ought not to’s.’ Just a special part of the world to disconnect for a little while and immerse ourselves in the space of a place, providing us space.
The retreat itself is set up where there is personal free time, time for workshop dialogue, a question and answer period, and then time for sweet Kirtan. Kirtan, for those that might be new to it is really another way to get into a meditative state. A Kirtan Wallah (in this case, Krishna Das), will sing or chant sacred Sanskrit words, and those in attendance repeat what he sings. This happens over and over again, and one song can last up to 20 – 30 minutes, possibly longer. Each word carries a sound vibration and helps to steady the mind, bringing it into a state of stillness or deep meditation.
Now for me, I’ve never been much of a singer. While I have spent many years attending retreats, I go for one purpose only. I attend so I can be surrounded by the vibration of the environment. I go so I can sit and meditate while beautiful voices around me sing sacred words. I go so I can be surrounded by conversation of a higher vibration, where people are searching and open to learning about themselves and possibly a newer way of being. To me it is special and sacred, and my most favorite way to unwind when my work and life balance, becomes off balance.
It was Saturday and we had all gathered into the main hall for our scheduled afternoon time together. We had a few hours with Krishna Das where he opened up the floor for questions. I had settled in next to my friend off to the side of the large group somewhere against a wall. I closed my eyes and started to tap into my breathing.
The questions and dialogue began.
While questions are being asked and answers shared, there happened to be this couple who were creating a fair bit of noise and distraction. They were a few people away from us, but their whispers and giggles could still be heard. It must have been a fairly new relationship. You could hear the man scoffing at some answers, trying to show to his new love that he possibly knew more or better then the answer provided. It’s funny how ego shows up, even in the delicate yoga world. I suppose we are all just human beings, wanting love and attention and to feel like we have something meaningful to contribute. You could sense the energy of the large group shift in dissatisfaction with the distraction they were creating. And so there I am, meditating – but equally aware of the sounds of their voices. At some point, it’s starting to pull me out of my space.
After some time, it dawns on me that since I have no control over the situation, I would try a different approach. Instead of trying to control my environment, instead of trying to push the sound away, instead of trying to block it out and focusing on something else…
I invite it in.
I started to welcome into my meditation, the sound of their voices. I started to welcome the sound of their giggles. I started to welcome the sounds of their workshops judgements and whispers on the topic they thought they knew so much more about. To start, not so easy. I was trying to experiment with taking a sound I found bothersome, and asking to hear more of it; inviting myself to go deeper with it. I don’t know about you, but this was definitely not something I had tried before. I was in essence, trying to experiment with myself to feel and believe that I couldn’t wait for the next giggle to happen, the next judgement to come from their mouths. And then, something really magical happened.
Their voices turned into the sound of children.
It may sound odd and don’t get me wrong, it took some time and much practice. Yet slowly and then suddenly, all I could hear was the soft laughter of children playing and giggling. All I could hear was the sound of blissful joy coming from their words. All I could hear were their hearts singing out loud in the form of play. The more I kept inviting the sound in, the more it made my heart smile. What started out as disruptive, turned into me feeling defensive of them and their way of being. I wanted to hold space for them so they could be what and how they needed to be. And there in meditation, with a soft smile on my face, I had learned a massive lesson.
Meditation in silence is luxury; Meditation in the presence of noise, is the lesson.
As many of you know, I have been guiding meditation classes for over 6 years. I use the word ‘guiding,’ as I don’t really believe anyone can teach someone to meditate. It’s something all of your own personal experience. I tell my students all the time that the sounds of the city around us, the fire truck going by, the car honking down the street, the fan in the room clicking in, someone possibly snoring in class or breathing heavily, someone fidgeting next to you… try not to push the sound away from you. Instead, invite it in. Experiment with anticipating the sound and the next sound coming in after it. Welcome it into your quiet meditative space. Because at the end of all this and the purpose behind all of this, is to remain calm while the storm circles around you. The goal is to develop a grounded place that you can tap into, anytime the tornado of life is around. The whole point is to nurture a place of calm where you are centered and better able to try identify the triggers that are in disguise (as something like noise). Create space between you and your trigger before you respond, so you are able to think clearly and decide how you are going to react. Because that reaction, whatever you allow it or don’t allow it to be, is your karma. And yours alone.
Now, I am obviously a huge fan of meditation and hence, this is what I am writing about. But regardless if you are experimenting with this practice or looking for alternate ways to manage your stress and how to deal with the constant noise around us, be open to this suggestion. Namaste.