Every Saturday I get up at 6 am and head down to San Mateo to open up the studio and teach at 7:30 am. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a creature of habit. I head first Noah’s (often on my bike) and grab a decaf coffee to bring to class. I’ll often grab a bagel to eat at the studio, especially if I’m planning on staying at work after my class. There’s rarely anytime to stop and more often than not, I’m very conscious of the time and try to be as efficient as possible.
Today, I decided to slow down and take the time to eat my bagel and drink my coffee before rushing back to the studio to check in my class. No sooner did I sit down outside when I heard a leaf blower cleaning off the sidewalks.
Normally, I would have gotten annoyed by that noise pollution at 6:35 am on the very day I wanted to take a few moments and sit quietly to prepare for the day. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my meditation and yoga practice help me avoid knee jerk reactions and decided to ponder the situation and take it as a learning opportunity.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright and he suggest that a key goal of mindfulness meditation is learn how learn how to translate whatever distracting thoughts pop into your head into feelings. You then observe those feelings and even feel yourself experience them. This step often helps give you perspective to realize it’s just a feeling – by acknowledging it you can see if for what it is (a distraction) and can often detach from it or disempower it.
I was reminded of a lecture that Julia Butterfly Hill gave at Nandi a while back on dealing with a medical condition that often caused her a lot of pain. She initially fought it and got overwhelmed when her symptoms took a turn for the worse. As expected, it was something she dreaded. However, over time she started acknowledging the pain when it hit, accepting it, and in turn, it lost its power of her.
Now listening to a leaf blower is no big deal – it’s a minor inconvenience at most. But progress is progress and it was still an opportunity for me to learn how to let a distraction go. Annoyances in life – whether a brief moment in time or a long term challenge – serve no good purpose so learning to disengage from them helps us to hone our focusing (and ultimately our meditating) skills.
I stayed where I was amidst the droning of the motor and swirling of the leaves, let the distractions fade into the background, and enjoyed my coffee.