“Chew, chew, chew. Crunch, crunch, crunch.” There he goes again. Every single time I sit to meditate, my dog gets the hardest chew toy he can find and chews it. It never fails—as soon as I sit down, he starts. He gets close enough for maximum volume, but just out of arm’s reach. It is absolutely amazing how loud he can be!
For a while I was trying different tactics to see if I could get him to stop.
Wait until he’s asleep and then sit? Nope, if I sit on my meditation cushion, even if he’s dreaming, he immediately wakes up and starts chewing.
Wait until he’s asleep, sneak into the other room and then sit? Nope, here he comes.
Wait until he’s asleep, sneak into the other room, close the door and then sit? “Crunch, crunch, crunch,” right outside the door.
Take the chew toys away? He cleans his paws: “lick, lick, lick.” You think that would be better, but it is just as loud and sounds pretty gross.
Take him for a run, play Frisbee, and really wear him out so he’s extra sleepy? I tried that once, but somehow the dog notified the cat that he was too tired to fulfil his meditation distraction duties. The cat came over, laid right next to me and purred the loudest purr you’ve ever heard. I swear, he sounded like a motorboat.
When something keeps presenting itself to us, we begin to wonder what it is trying to teach us. I’ve contemplated this for a while now with my dog and my meditation. I think what my pup is trying to teach me is twofold.
First, just because we’re meditating, it doesn’t mean we’re being present.
Yes, it is wonderful to meditate. It’s great to connect to ourselves. It’s great to tune into our breath and calm our mind. The insights we gain during meditation can help us to gain more awareness and act more mindfully in the world. In short, meditation helps us be more present.
While these things are true and there is so much we can learn from meditation, meditation itself can actually also be a way to check out of the present moment, much like many of our other activities like watching TV or playing on our phones. My dog certainly feels this is the case, even if I disagree.
My cat doesn’t participate in meditation disruption as much, but he has a lot to say about being present too. He’s a master at letting me know when I’ve been on my phone too long or worked on my computer too much. Somehow he even knows if I’m playing or working. He allows a longer period of time on devices if I’m being productive. If I try to play a game, he interrupts much faster. When he decides I’ve been distracted long enough, he’ll come right over, get between me and the screen, and purr until petted.
Sometimes he’ll even put his paw on my arm as if to say, “Okay, that’s enough.”
Both my pets seem to think being present involves paying attention to the connections that are right in front of us, which is true. More broadly though, being mindful of how we are being present is key. Not moving mindlessly through the world, but actually noticing where we are putting our attention ensures that we are present, whatever that means in a particular situation. If we need to do something that might take us away from what’s right in front of us—like check our phone, send emails, or meditate—let’s do that deliberately, setting aside dedicated time to do so rather than trying to multi-task and dividing our attention.
Second, the magic of meditation comes in being able to find that state even amidst chaos.
We meditate for many reasons: perhaps to de-stress, to calm our minds, to find bliss, to manifest our reality more deliberately. All those are great things, but if we can only find them or do them when the conditions are perfect, then what good are they really?
Life can be crazy at times. Our meditation practice should help us move through our crazy lives with more ease. If we must remove ourselves from life to meditate, how is it really helping us?
The first yoga class I ever took was an outdoor class on an island off the coast of Oahu. Sounds blissful, right? It was, well, with one tiny exception: the little island was in the path of a Marine Corps base where they trained cargo pilots to take off and land over and over again. Rather than get upset by the constant loud interruption, my yoga teacher embraced the planes and noise. She would instruct us to breathe through a pose as they flew overhead. She would leave us in Savasana—the resting pose at the end of a yoga class—with the instruction to realise we didn’t have to grasp onto the sounds around us. We could continue to let go even through the noise.
I had temporarily forgotten this lesson.
It changes the practice a bit, but learning to find calm through distractions is a great skill for life. When things hit the fan and we have to stay calm through something tough, our meditation practice can help us with that. That’s really what it is all about, I believe.
If life throws something at us, when we’ve practised meditating through chaos, we may find it easier to keep our cool.
Meditation is not just being able to sit still in this perfect little spot with no distractions, but being able to find that state within ourselves when we need to work through things that might otherwise derail us.
Whatever distractions we encounter in life, whether they are dogs chewing bones, kittens purring their loudest, tiny humans crying, or even incoming text messages, let’s embrace them. Let’s be open to the lessons they have to teach. Sometimes what initially seems like a distraction is actually what deserves our committed attention. Other times, we must be able to find our peace in the presence of the distractions themselves.