How To Meditate In Public
Deepen your practice by taking it off the cushion
If you’ve been on a meditation retreat, you may have discovered the joys of just sitting still, the feeling of release from self, the stillness of deep tranquility, and the dance of changing impermanent awareness.
One common issue experienced after meditation retreat, or after sitting at a dharma talk, is how to re-integrate our practice into everyday life. Mindfulness is commonly accepted, but I’m speaking specifically about meditation. We may continue at home. We may even be lucky enough to have a quiet place to sit in our work space. And of course, there’s that third jewel of refuge, the Sangha, a safe space to continue our practice among friends and fellow meditators.
That’s where meditation tends to stay, in those safe spaces behind closed doors. It’s absolutely a good thing to have these spaces, but we often think about ways to deepen our practice. Sometimes, this comes in the form of endurance: Longer meditations periods, week-long retreats.
But we don’t always have the ability to disconnect for extended periods of time. How can we find practices that deepen that we have access to in our daily life?
One way to do this is by meditating in public. That’s right: sitting in that simple, upright yet relaxed posture, visible to those passing by you.
This can be uncomfortable at first, as we begin practicing face-to-face with our vulnerabilities. Does this mean that we need to become zealots, spreading our religion of happiness? Many of us, myself included, come from proselytizing backrounds. The last thing we want is to impose some kind of belief system in others.
However, at a certain stage in our practice, when we know the benefits that mindfulness and meditation have brought to us, we need to take confidence in our ability to express it, even from something as simple as sitting calmly and kindly in public.
Furthermore, this practice has merit. On some occasions, I’ve been thanked afterward for helping people feel relaxed and calm, just by sitting there!
There are several places and many ways to do it.
Warmup round: public transportation
Meditation actually becoming more of a common sight on public transportation, which is great. It’s not uncommon for me to see people sitting bus or train with that calm relaxed expression, and it always brings a smile to my face.
It’s a great way to meditate with sound, hearing the loud whistles of the bus, feeling a sense of swaying back and forth with the rhythms of stop and go traffic, hearing bits of conversation.
It’s also perfect at airports, sitting during layovers, and sitting on the plane, mindful of the turbulence and muffled sounds of the engine and white noise and crying babies within the cabin. It’s actually incredibly relaxing.
Next step: The bench
For this one, part of the practice is to be right in the middle of a public place. It doesn’t have to be anywhere overly crowded, but go somewhere you know that people will see you. Find a nice bench to sit on. Maybe it’s a park bench, maybe it’s a bus stop, maybe it’s at a mall. It doesn’t have to be a familiar place, in fact its totally fine to go somewhere where most people won’t recognize you.
Here’s the main thing to remember with the bench experiment:
Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re meditating.
I know, I know, it’s hard. what are they going to think of this person sitting here? But trust me, it will be far stranger and more uncomfortable for you look like you’re in some half-meditation.
Sit fully, use your best posture, as if you were meditating with your favorite teacher. Keep the chin tucked. Shoulders relaxed. Spine stacked. You know this stuff. Most importantly, allow that gentle smile to come through.
From here, it’s familiar territory. Be aware of the sounds around you, the traffic as it goes by, the sounds of people walking. Conversations and chatter. Eventually, the thoughts will come up:
What are people thinking of me?
What if someone I know sees me?
I must look silly.
This, of course, is judging mind, coming fully out to play. If you’ve sat before, you might know this old friend.
As you sit, you might start to notice other things. The sounds coming and going, just like passing thoughts. Moving. Alive. You may even find yourself more deeply connected to that ever-changing, impermanent world around you, but now, you’re right in the middle of it.
You may even notice something else: people tend to just keep moving right along with their lives. You may notice that you’re on full alert, awake to everything around you, ready for sudden noises.
It’s possible (though rare) that you get stopped during your meditation. If someone asks for your attention, you could ignore them and keep going, but what’s it like to open your eyes and talk to them for a minute? They may be curious about what you’re doing. They may ask you why you’re sitting, if it’s for some cause, or some religion. You could just tell them you enjoy meditating wherever you go, or say something that feels honest for you in the moment.
After ten minutes (or even more if you get into it), slowly open your eyes, back into the world around you.
I find this practice incredibly grounding. There’s no better way to integrate mindfulness into your daily life than to sit fully in it, surrounded by the world as it truly is. It’s a wonderful way to be a part of the workings of the external world, seeing how we are all deeply interwoven and connected.
It also takes time. You may need to experiment around with a few different places. Just like a good meditation posture, don’t do something that makes you extremely uncomfortable if it’s not helpful.
Before you know it though, it becomes second nature. You start seeing the world around you as a meditation hall, and you start looking for opportunities and places to sit, no longer confined to those remote, secluded places which can’t always be reached.
It’s through actions like this that the mindfulness movement has true potential to deepen and grow in our culture. What are some ways that you bring your practice out in the world?
Originally published at asimplepractice.net.
Illustrations by Matt Martini