One of the choices that has helped me set up and stick to my meditation practice is to say that interruptions are OK. 

If someone needs to come into the room where I’m meditating and do something that makes some noise, that’s OK. If someone needs to tell me something or ask me a question while I’m meditating, that’s OK. 

I don’t want interruptions, but if they happen, they’re fine. 

There are two reasons why this policy of “interruption acceptance” has been very helpful to me. The first reason is practical, the second is philosophical.

From a practical standpoint, I don’t have a dedicated meditation room in my house so I often meditate in the kitchen in the morning while I’m having my coffee. (There’s more to say elsewhere about coffee and meditation.) My partner needs to come into the kitchen in the morning and do stuff, and the morning is also a time we have to spend together before work begins. My acceptance of interruptions means that meditation can fit into our morning flow without causing conflict. I don’t want the radio turned on while I’m meditating, but if the kettle starts boiling or the fridge is opened and closed, or even if a few words are directed my way, that’s fine with me. And that being fine with me makes everything easier.

From a philosophical standpoint, well, what am I doing when I meditate? I’m constantly handling interruptions. Interruptions from my own mind. Thoughts come about. I practice responding to them in a non-judgemental way, not getting upset about their presence, but simply observing them and allowing them to pass. That’s what the practice of meditation is all about. So why should it be any different if the interruption comes from a person making sounds in my environment as opposed to a thought transpiring in my own mind?

If a person interrupted me and I said “Oh damn! That ruins everything!” this would be the diametrical opposite of the mindset I am trying to cultivate through meditation. The mindset I am trying to cultivate is “That happened? No problem. Back to breathing.”

If a person interrupts me during my meditation and I respond with anger and frustration, that says that meditation hasn’t been very effective for me in this particular instance. But usually, if a person happens to interrupt me during meditation, they’re going to be pretty lucky because they’ll be getting the best of me. They’ll be getting my full attention with a clear mind and without the baggage of competing thoughts.

And in a sense, I’m getting something from the interruption too: a chance to practice recovering from it, returning to breathing, continuing my meditation.

I stayed at a friend’s house the other week and one particular morning, another guest stumbled into the area where I was meditating, a secluded corner of a large Vermont deck where I happened to be sitting in a wooden lounge chair. This person needed to get something they had left there. But when this kind person saw me they apologized to me profusely and assumed I was going to be terribly upset that I had been interrupted. I said, “It’s fine! Hi!” and they replied, “Fine? Really?” Then they thought about it some more and continued “Maybe this means I can meditate too, if interruptions are OK, because I don’t have a quiet environment to do it in either.” I kind of love shocking people like this.

Of course, there are states of awareness that we can never reach in the presence of interruptions. It feels qualitatively different to meditate for a long time in a tranquil setting without interruptions as opposed to a noisy space with frequent interruptions. But there’s something to be gained from meditation in either case. ■

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