Whether you’re a meditator or not, you might have an image in mind of the perfect meditation environment.
Maybe that includes natural or peaceful surroundings, soft cushions, gently wafting incense and perhaps even the light sound of a bubbling fountain off in the distance. Maybe you imagine a comfortable but vibrant posture with a straight spine, legs folded and hands gently held in a mudra. Whether this image matches yours or not, many of us have images of what meditations “should” be like and this can set us up for all sorts of failure.
Meditation is a powerful tool of application to aid one in navigating the chaos of everyday life. Such irony! How can one learn how to navigate chaos if the environment needs to be serene and peaceful to learn it? Urbanites, this is not your reality.
With horns blowing, sirens racing by, construction erecting even more hubs of noise and chaos, and neighbors clamoring about, it’s easy to make excuses why meditation simply doesn’t work. Our “I can’ts” begin to fill our minds. Our expectations get in our way. And our narrow way of thinking inhibits our ability to access great internal peace and healing.
Meditating amidst the chaos can be liberating, especially when you realize it doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe it’s only five minutes on your daily train commute where you can close your eyes while smelling other people’s breakfasts and remind yourself that you are breathing, and able-minded for this moment, and that your basic survival needs are met right now. Whew!
With these basics noted, your fight-or-flight brain has a chance to turn itself down which allows for an increased capacity for gratitude and joy. What if you were to work your environment into your meditations noting what you witness come up in your mind as the siren screams by? This often allows deeper stories and patterns rise to the surface that we can take a few minutes to simply breathe through. Isn’t this all the point, to learn how to breathe through life’s rollercoaster?
Personally, my meditation practice has only deepened because of my urban environment. I’ve had to accept that I can’t control my environment. I’ve had to learn how to listen deeply to myself and my breath in a crowd when others aren’t paying attention. It’s caused me to see all the ways in which the chaos can throw me back into my most reactionary self. I never got to see this when I was insulated by the most peaceful of surroundings.
Would I turn down an opportunity to meditate on a mountaintop on a sunny day?
No, and I’m not suggesting you create chaos where it’s not necessary. But Urbanites, you don’t have to wait for the mountain or retreat. Your moments are right here in line at the bank, in a traffic jam, at the ticket counter of a sold-out movie, and when your cell phone can’t get good reception. Each of these are the perfect moments to notice your breath, take stock of what is working to support you, and shift your response to the chaos by simply noticing.
Here are three ways in which urban meditation can take you deeper than you ever thought:
1. It calls for real-time application for breath work, mental reframing, and fight-or-flight down-regulation. With practice these skills gain power and become automated so that in even more chaotic moments they become your new default options.
2. It forces us to exercise the creative and curious part of our executive functioning as we begin to notice more and more the things that come up during a chaotic moment. This strengthening of our executive functioning leads to increased abilities for problem-solving, cognitive capacity, and even compassion and empathy.
3. Meditating in the spaces in between life creates the practice and validation that it’s a tool to help us navigate life, not escape it. If each day presents a few minutes here and there to meditate then we begin to be accustomed to the idea that each moment can be an invitation to reach deeper inside.
Meditation sanctuaries are all around us, in each moment, often sounding like cacophony, sometimes smelling pungent, and often looking disheveled and unapproachable. What chaos can you observe and breathe through today?
Author: Lisa Wimberger
Editor: Travis May
Image: elephant archives