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Noise Matters

September 22, 2010

Long ago I had a book about Raja Yoga. If I remember correctly it was about Raja Yoga…I have a tendency to remember the smallest details of books I’ve read. The author and title will remain irretrievable but I will remember very vividly a detail I found tucked inside the text. (Indeed, till this day—my friend Roger recently reminded me—I’m still asking him whether he read that Milan Kundera novel, the one with the blue pill.)

Inside that little Yoga book there was an exercise to strengthen one’s concentration, which in turn would help prepare her to move on to deeper stages of meditation. The practitioner was asked to choose an object—any object, it could be material, emotional, abstract—but only one to concentrate on with one-pointed focus. For example, suggested the text, imagine a pencil. It went on (I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of the book!), hold the pencil in your mind and explore it in its entirety. Mentally rotate the image of the pencil. Focus completely on the…crap, I forgot to do my geometry homework, I really like Chrissy Ambrose’s hair, ugh, I need a haircut, oh I don’t like that place down the street, I wish we could go somewhere else…ten minutes later: “Has anyone seen my pencil?”

Noise matters. It sounds impossible, perhaps daft, maybe obvious or even irrelevant but I’ve come to decide that noise really does matter.

Monkey mind monkey mind monkey mind we meditate to train the monkey mind. Sit and you will find peace and quiet. What? I can’t hear you the monkeys are making so much noise!

Stay there, the noise matters.

It is not the content of the noise—what the noise is saying, imaging, or emoting. Of course, you can watch it—practice watching it because it matters.

It was many many years later when I sat again for meditation. This time it was called “meditation” and I sat with small group of Yogis and our teacher. He had a lovely padmasana! So nice! So comfortable! Such a comfortable seat! And then I closed my eyes and it was not like putting my hand in the fire, it was putting my face in the fire. Smudge; there go my eyebrows, aye, and the pain. My eyes were stinging, my joints were howling, my entire body was filled with a restlessness so deep it took every bit of will power I could muster, peer pressure, and a heavy dose of Grace to keep my seat…although it was not a comfortable one.

Eh? I thought you practiced asana? Where’s your comfortable seat?

The noise matters, watching the noise matters, and at times you uncover a knot. Holy moly, you suddenly realize, dispassionately and with a calm heart, I have this very bad habit of (fill in your annoying/destructive/aggressive/violent/counterproductive habit or thinking pattern here) and because of that I am hurting myself and others. Here’s the place to do your best to have compassion for yourself but recognize that you’ve been given—by the Grace of such noise—a little practice. Okay, I admit, they are often incredibly deep, ongoing, and challenging practices but just remember in the context of multiple lives (wink) it’s not so big.

Recently, I was on a retreat with the Boston Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. We sat for meditation twice a day for at least one hour each sitting. Both swamis were incredibly inspiring and the entire time throughout the retreat—almost the entire time—I felt lifted, entranced, close and closer to the Source, except when we sat for meditation. Good lord, when we sat for meditation it was as if I had been dropped into Cairene traffic during Ramadan just before iftar (breaking the fast). Noise pollution, restlessness, hunger, thirst, physical pain, mental pain, wait…what? Are there spiritual ‘muscles’ to condition…?

The strange thing is…lately, when I sit down I find a bar of intense yet soft light that holds my focus and holds me close. It is becoming more clear that at some point, after all that noise, the hunger to sit with that light will become stronger and stronger until it is impossible to blow off, always worth ‘the trouble,’ and sitting with that noise—that sharp-edged noise—becomes the smallest effort. As they say in Cairo—enshallah (God willing), but also you willing. So will you sit down?

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