You walk into an elevator alone, press your button, and, as the doors begin to slowly close, you suddenly see someone running to the elevator, hands full, screaming, “Hold the door please.” You (assuming that you’re a decent human being) quickly press the “Open Door” button and this stranger makes it on the tiny metal box with you. Then the doors close. You are standing inches away from a person you have never met before (hopefully you are both wearing masks). You look straight ahead, but this feels awkward and uncomfortable, you look to your side, but the same feelings emerge. Finally, you do the one thing that feels safe and natural; you take out your phone. You notice the stranger has done the same and you’ve now reached their floor. They leave the elevator. Crisis averted.
For many of us, this is a common scenario, whenever we are in awkward situations or silences, we turn to our phones, as these are safe places to turn to. Nobody questions you if you are on your phone. That is the norm. But if you were, let’s say, sitting quietly with your legs crossed under a tree with your eyes closed, you may get some funny looks and confused whispers about you. Why is this? Because sitting quietly in public is, for whatever reason, not the norm.
I know when I think of meditation, I think of me, alone, in the safety and security of my own room. My door is closed and locked and part of me is hoping that none of my roommates knock on the door and ask what I’m doing.
Kings used to have a “Groom of the Stool,” who would help the king while he was, well, shitting, and this job was actually one of the most trusted and sought after since pooping is one of the most vulnerable things a King could do (Ridgway, 2016). I wish I could have a groom of the stool while I am meditating, as I am sitting alone with my eyes closed, and I feel extremely vulnerable. This feeling of vulnerability is a rare feeling and one of the many reasons I love meditation, but I am not so sure about how I would feel about meditating outside in public, where this vulnerability would only be heightened.
Poet and writing coach Hila Ratzabi actually enjoys these feelings of meditating in public and goes out of her way to meditate outside of her office building rather than in a more secluded area. She explains the feelings of nervousness as she senses people walking by and “the tiny pricks of fear in [her] defenseless, open hands.” Ratzabi explains that these feelings and the “awkward” energy change over time as her co-workers get used to seeing her there every morning. Even though at first, she explains the discomfort of interacting with these co-workers, it slowly grows to acceptance. Ratzabi explains this by saying, “I don’t feel uncomfortable at all. One person looks at me and smiles gently as they walk by.” Ratzabi sees this simple act of sitting and meditating as a way to spread joy and acceptance in her place of work.
Although that’s a super heartwarming story and all, I know I do not yet have this confidence to publicly and openly meditate. However, sometimes we don’t have a choice. Anxiety and panic attacks happen anywhere, and most of the time they are in public. As college students, we are also extremely busy and maybe we don’t have time to sit in our rooms for 5-10 minutes a day and meditate. Maybe we need to squeeze in a meditation on the morning commute or in between walking from class to class.
So now you’re looking for a way to meditate in public without people knowing that you’re meditating. Well here’s the great part about meditation, you don’t actually have to sit all crisscross apple sauce with your hands in weird shapes and your eyes closed! Meditation is simply about taking the time to be aware of both your surroundings and your internal feelings.
Public meditation works like this; put away your phone and start paying attention to the noises around you. It doesn’t matter how noisy or annoying these noises are as they are still the noises that are present, and it is time to accept them. Simply listen and be aware of them. The “sounds in fact cease to be distractions and become what you are mindfully paying attention to” (Bodhipaksa, 2014). Simply pay attention to these noises for as long as you would like and whenever a thought or worry comes to your mind, simply let it pass right through and bring your attention back to focusing on the noises and your surroundings. This is very similar to the “Focused Meditation” that I explain in my Meditation Types blog post.
If the noises are too distracting for you, you can also put in some headphones, play non-lyrical music or even a guided meditation and simply focus on these noises instead. You don’t have to sit in a weird way or even close your eyes. You can just sit normally and stare straight ahead of you or out a window or anything that makes you comfortable and relaxed (just not your phone). It’s that simple!
It is important to keep in mind that while you are in public, there is always the possibility of someone interrupting your meditation session. That’s okay. It’s not the end of the world, but it is something you have to be aware of as a possibility (Bodhipaksa, 2014).
I have done focused meditation a few times now in public, whether it's at the beach focusing on the waves or on a bus focusing on the noises of the traffic. It’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you, but with a little bit of practice and perseverance, I know you can do it too. Public meditation is so beneficial because it takes all of the great benefits of meditation (like the calmness and relaxation) and makes them achievable in any location or situation! So, maybe, just maybe, next time you’re on an elevator with a stranger, try and start focusing on your breath and your surroundings instead of immediately reaching for your phone.
Bodhipaksa. “Four Tips forMeditating in Public.” Wildmind, Mar. 2014,www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/four-tips-for-meditating-in-public.
Ratzabi, Hila. “Why IMeditate In Public.” The Wisdom Daily, 5 Sept. 2018,thewisdomdaily.com/why-i-meditate-in-public/.
Ridgway, Claire. “What Is a Groom of the Stool?.” The Tudor Society, 2016,www.tudorsociety.com/groom-stool-sarah-bryson/.
A special thank you to all my friends and family who have not only supported me on my journey but have helped along the way. None of this would be possible without them. Remember to take time to appreciate those in your lives!
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