"I live in a house with four other people. I'm able to go into a room by myself and they aren't inappropriately loud, but I can still hear them when I'm trying to meditate and it's really distracting and interferes with my practice. Do you recommend earplugs or headphones?"
I've addressed this question before on the tad blog (index here) and in other discussions, but it comes up often and is worth revisiting.
No, I don't recommend earplugs or headphones - meditating isn't about blocking things out. It isn't about suppressing or trying to change your experience.
To the contrary, it's about learning to be with your current situation as it is.
Noise isn't a problem. Thoughts and emotions about noise aren't a problem. Instead of trying to "fix" it (noise, thoughts, emotions - whatever arises), you learn to accept it as part of the present moment.
What you don't do, however, is indulge it. This means you refrain from labeling and judging - in this case, refrain from labeling and judging the noise that you notice and the thoughts and emotions about the noise you notice.
If you indulge it, you perpetuate the mental activity - you turn it into a story about something being done to you, or something to overcome:
And then you probably judge yourself for the story, and for judging the people you live with!
You can see how this creates a chain of mental activity - thoughts and emotions lead to more thoughts and emotions lead to more thoughts and emotions (and on and on). Before you know it, you're somewhere you don't want to be: trapped in conditioned behavior that dictates your decisions, actions, and reactions.
If, instead, you notice what arises and move your attention back to your anchor (your breath, a mantra), you are using what's in your experience to further your practice.
Reality is reality, and our attempts to control or resist it cause us to suffer more than the actual situations we are trying to control or resist. When we meditate, we discover this to be true.
Learn to be ok with what arises in your experience. You aren't trying to "fix" it - you are simply changing your relationship with it. This is how you realize the benefits of meditating during your "non-meditating" time (also known as bringing mindfulness to your daily life).
A real-world example:
If someone who doesn't practice meditation is nervous about giving a presentation and scared (worried) about "screwing up," they are likely to get caught up in those thoughts, feelings, and emotions and follow them down a path that culminates in their fear becoming reality.
Through a consistent meditation practice, however, they learn to notice those thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and be ok with them (accept them). Instead of getting caught up in them, they move their attention back to the present moment and task at hand.
This makes it likely they will perform better in their presentation.
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