Cherish Your Interruptions

Meditation Table

Yesterday I felt a strong need for a break around midday. I had experienced a hectic morning on top of a busier-than-usual past few weeks. I felt tired and anxious, and I longed for a return to equilibrium, a slowing of my heartbeat and breath rate. I knew I could continue working alongside my feelings of mild distress and fatigue, but I also knew that a silent, meditative sit would help me press my “reset” button and I would most likely arrive back at my afternoon tasks feeling more refreshed and clear-headed. Perhaps attending to my need for rest would help me accomplish more in less time.

To begin my meditation practice, I sat in a folding chair at my meditation table on the screened-in porch attached to my apartment. I set the meditation app timer for 60 minutes and took my mala beads in my hands. I had a feeling it would be challenging to focus on my breath cycle alone, so I decided to use a mantra (repeated word) to help me gain focus quickly. I heard the first ring of the timer gong. On every in-breath, I silently said, “still” and on every out-breath I silently said, “ness.” And with every “still-ness” cycle, my fingers grapsed the next bead on the mala string. Still-ness. Still-ness. I would invite my active mind to come to a state of stillness.

About ten minutes passed and I noticed a gradual slowing of my breath. My shoulders fell away from my ears. Still-ness. Still-ness. Yes. I felt grateful for the calmer state I was sure would emerge over the hour. This is exactly what I needed. But just as I noticed some serenity happening, just as I started to relax, I heard a loud, abrasive, whirring “RRRRRR!!!!!” coming from somewhere nearby, followed immediately by deep sounds of motors and high-pitched clanking metal. WRRRRRR!!! WHIRRRRRRR!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! I was jolted out of my bliss. “The landscapers are here?” I said aloud, incredulous. “Today?” They usually come on a different day. WRRRRRR!!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! The machines seemed to reply, “Yes! We are here! We are here! Don’t we sound loud and powerful? We have asserted ourselves into your blissful meditation!” I sighed. I felt my shoulders stiffen and my chest tighten.

As I listened to the sounds of machinery coming closer to my apartment, I gazed at the pine trees outside my window. A cardinal hopped around on the ground, a fire-red bit of loveliness, pecking here and there. I placed my mala beads down on the table dejectedly and picked up my phone. The seconds of my precious meditation time ticked away one by one. I wondered what to do. Should I go inside where it’s quieter? Should I forget the whole thing and get back to work? Then I noticed a subtle shift in my consciousness. I remembered something that had happened last week could help me in this moment. I smiled broadly; my shoulders dropped. Oh, yes. This is the practice!

A few days prior, I had attended my weekly meditation group. We were about 15 minutes into a 30-minute silent sit when someone’s ringing phone broke the silence with its cheerful and catchy tone: Boop-boop-boop! Boop-boop! Boop-boop-boop-boop! That time was just like now. Yes. I was just getting into my flow, being totally present, when that sound catapulted me out of it. On that day, I noticed the ring tone invading my headspace and felt my chest tighten slightly in annoyance as I listened to it play. I said to myself, “Someone forgot to turn off their ringer.” The tone rang for several cycles; however, I could not help but soften my heart and “boop” right along with it in my mind: “Boop-boop-boop!” As it rang I thought, “The phone is still ringing,” and when it stopped, I thought, “It stopped. Good. Hm. Okay, back to the breath.”

During the group discussion at the end of the meditation, I experienced a change in perception about the ringing phone. First, I felt compassion for the person who forgot to turn off their ringer. I’ve done that before, as I’m sure we all have, and if that had been me I would have felt a bit embarrassed. Second, it occurred to me that perhaps the ringing was not a distraction from my practice, after all, but rather was the practice, or at least a part of it, maybe even an important part. The phone ringing during a silent meditation is like life, in a way: We’re moving along on our path, we think we know what to expect around the next bend, and then, “Boop-boop-boop!” something happens that we don’t expect. There’s some kind of an interruption to our life flow. A distraction. A plot twist. We’re catapulted into a different energy space and we may or may not like it. If we like it, great! But if we don’t, then what? How do we handle it?

I wondered, what can I learn from this? What happens if I resist the interruption? What happens if I lean into it instead? Could I learn to accept it, or perhaps even cherish it? Noticing. Feeling. Holding the feeling with compassion. Accepting. Gratitude. This is the practice. My practice. This is where learning happens. With a shift in perspective, “interruptions” might just be opportunities. But we’ll never know if we resist them.

Back on my porch surrounded by machine sounds, I took my phone in one hand. The timer was still ticking. I climbed down from my chair and lay belly-side down on the cool concrete floor. I stacked my hands into a flat pillow, turned my head to one side, and rested my cheek upon them. My body shook slightly, in a rather pleasant way, from the vibrations entering and rising from the floor. Thank you, property managers, for hiring landscapers to take care of the grounds. Thank you, landscapers, for doing the hard labor I cannot do to beautify my surroundings. Thank you, self, for adjusting your perception and letting go of resistance. I closed my eyes.

About forty minutes later, I woke up to the timer’s gong. In the distance I heard the machinery still whirring and clanking away. I felt surprised that the steady noise and gentle vibrations had somehow lulled me to sleep. I must have needed the nap! I stood up and got back to work.

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