How to Meditate in Public Without Looking Like You’re the Kind of Weirdo Who Meditates…
Charles T. Tart
I’ve been talking with a friend lately has had to move to a new home, such that a 2 hour long commute to and from the airport every week is part of life now, and she’s not particularly happy with it. I tried to cheer my friend up with some general advice, talking about whether you see the glass, to use the old analogy, as half-full or half-empty. Half-full is the optimist’s point of view, what can you add to it? Half-empty is the pessimist’s point of view, it will probably get worse. And then there is the engineer’s point of view, which says perhaps you can redesign the glass to be the optimal size.
A few days later I thought I’d pass along an idea I’ve used for some years, as I realized it could be helpful to a lot of us who occasionally want to meditate in public places, like sitting in a park or riding on a bus, but realize we live in a society where a lot of people are going to look at you like you’re really weird if you do that.
So, falling into my reengineering the glass mode…
Let’s say you have about an hour each way on the shuttle to and from the airport. For a devoted meditator, that’s an opportunity to practice, and an especially good opportunity because you can generalize your meditation skills to a wider range of settings than sitting in absolute quiet in a perfectly upright posture where nobody will bother you, either because there’s nobody else around and you’re meditating in solitude, or you’re surrounded by other people who are meditating also.
Learning to meditate in quiet, supportive settings is probably the best way for most people to start learning various forms of meditation (Gurdjieff work excepted in many ways), and spending time meditating in supportive settings helps to develop the skill of quieting your mind and going inward. But my current understanding is that a very important outcome of some kinds of meditation is learning to be present and spacious in everyday life, where lots of stuff is happening around you. So if somebody looks at you funny or says something you think is a little hostile to you in an everyday setting, it’s not really very practical to say “Excuse me while I sit down with crossed legs on this little black pillow and induce my meditative state to evaluate what you said more accurately and spaciously…”
And my observation should be followed by an emoticon for humor? 😉
An emoticon for sadness? ;-(
But, given the nature of our world, and if you’re not yet that skilled at mindfulness practice under difficult conditions, and/or you like meditating with your eyes closed, do you want to be seen by others sitting on the bus or the park bench with your eyes closed, sitting up unnaturally straight? Maybe you’re crazy? Maybe you’re a good candidate for being robbed? Even in California, I don’t think meditators are quite that socially accepted yet.
But, you have been saved by Apple’s success with iPods and iPhones, the fact that so many people are now wearing earbuds or earphones, listening to music or the like recorded on their iPods or cell phones. So you put on a pair of old-fashioned headphones, which immediately cuts down the outside noise. Then plug your headphone into your iPod or phone or other music player, for which I’m sure you can get an app that produces some nice, steady masking noise, surf or rain or something like that. Now it’s like you’re on retreat in some wonderful place that’s got lots of nature!
But you still might look a little bit vulnerable, so, rather than looking like a meditator, lay an open notebook in your lap with a few scribbles in it, and a pen in your other hand. So even though your eyes are closed, you could be a businessperson listening to a transcription of an important meeting, getting ready to take notes on the best phrasing for your next big contract. Ah, that’s one of those Type A people, not really out of it, better leave them alone…
I know, I don’t look that much like a high-powered businessman, but by California standards my Silicon Valley startup may be selling for zillions tomorrow… Such an interesting dream… 😉
Big headphones too odd? Not fashionable enough? Earbuds will do, although I personally don’t like them…Big headphones cut down outside noise better. The kind of headphones they sell for use on airplanes with active noise reduction probably would not be good for this, as they pick up steady sounds, like the hum of the engines and produce a duplicate, but out of phase sound that cancels the hum, but do little for changing noises…
There’s more to improving life and psychological and spiritual growth than just messing with external circumstances, but why not bias them in a helpful direction?
I do sometimes meditate in public and no one has bothered me and I have managed to use feelings of “looking weird” as a starting point for the sit. I find it useful to spend 5 minutes of meditation here and there during the day to facilitate a refocus. If enough of us do this, we can “normalize” a simple practice of quietly being here and now on a park bench or office break lounge, metro, etc.
Relaxation/meditative practices are so widely taught throughout the medical field and even in some schools & colleges, that it is possible that many people under 30, upon seeing me, simply register that an old man is resetting himself internally and are not surprised. At work it has even become an occasion for interested people to ask me about my practice & how it helps.
Good for you!
I also suspect you’re more extroverted than me. But it takes all kinds of us…. 😉
>I also suspect you’re more extroverted than me. But it takes all kinds of us…. ;-)<
Indeed it does! I'm extroverted when it's needed, but my idea of a good time is to curl up at home with my wife and a good book….