The Problem is the Resistance

Excerpt from "Finding Peace During Noisy Trips," by Stephanie Rosenbloom, The New York Times, Feb. 20, 2013: 


"Denial of what’s going on just doesn’t work,” said Andy Puddicombe, who discusses the benefits of meditation in his book Get Some Headspace and on his Web site, Attempting to ignore the loudmouth next to you by breathing deeply is what Mr. Puddicombe calls a classic meditation-related mistake — and one that’s likely to frustrate you even more as you struggle to focus on your breath instead of the noise. Besides, there’s not much you can do about a plane or train buzzing with sounds. What you can change, of course, is how you respond.

“The sound — that in itself isn’t the problem,” Mr. Puddicombe said. “The problem is the resistance in our mind.” In other words, don’t sit there fuming about the shouting child and his ineffectual parents. Mr. Puddicombe said your discomfort is not the shouting, it’s the gap between reality (the noisy child) and what you want the situation to be (quiet). What Mr. Puddicombe calls “mindfulness meditation” (essentially being in the present moment) can help bridge the space between reality and desire. “It’s letting go of what we want it to be,” he said, “and moving closer to acceptance of what is happening right now.” (Hint: this can also be applied to matters of work, health, love.)

How wonderfully sane. But how to do it?

First, simply acknowledge that you’re frustrated (in your head, not by lobbing a shoe). “When you look at resistance it starts to lose its intensity,” Mr. Puddicombe said. Then, listen to the sound. Don’t blame the noisemakers. Just listen to the sound.

“If you give that your full attention,” Mr. Puddicombe said, “eventually the mind will get bored of it.” He gave as an example being on an hourlong train ride next to someone with iPod music loud enough for you to hear. Your mind simply won’t stay focused on the music for an hour, Mr. Puddicombe said.

When listening to a noise, aim for “gentle acceptance.” Don’t worry about deep breathing. “Let go of the breath,” Mr. Puddicombe said. “We’re not talking about some sort of escapist trick of the mind.”

Beginners and skeptics may want to try his free daily meditation app, Headspace (on-the-go). It’s brief and includes instruction so you’re not alone with your subconscious and a didgeridoo. His simple mindfulness tips are seen by scores of passengers on Virgin Atlantic, which has a Headspace channel with videos about falling sleep, even meditation for kids.