Meditating in Public


It is out of character for me to arrive 35 minutes early for an appointment. But I was there this morning with lots of time to spare having misread my calendar. Oddly I was only surprised rather than frustrated with myself. After all I knew I’d brought the paper along as well as my phone. I definitely know how to entertain myself and I could count on Starbucks to welcome me. Still I was not interested in yet another journalist’s version of Orange 45 and Putin meeting for the first time in Germany. The prospect of front page photos was just not drawing me.

Instead the solitary chairs outside the salon looked inviting. I had recently promised myself to meditate for 20 to 30 minutes every day during my summer break. Could I practice here? Now? I had the time. But the nerve? Was this too woo-woo?

I remember when I began reserving some of my longstanding alone time in the morning for nothing more than sitting and closing my eyes. Later it occurred to me that perhaps I could invite myself to sit quietly in this way at work, in my cubicle. At first I attached a sign to the back of my chair and positioned it to inform any visitor who came looking for me, “Take 5. Please come back in 5 minutes.” Then I followed suggestions to practice mindfulness first for five minutes each day of the week, increasing to 10 minutes the next week, then 15. After six weeks, I was meditating 30 minutes in my cube with all the activity of the school district office continuing around me. For these longer sits, I waited until the end of the workday to practice. Interruptions (and the ensuing disappointment) were less likely late in the day and the drive home seemed more pleasant after the peaceful segue.

Cube meditation had an overall relaxing effect on me at work. I found myself creating more and more calm rather than my habit of hurried, frenetic reactions. I suspected taking time out in the middle of the exciting and frenzied marketplace might open a new sense of balance for me too. At any rate the very idea of the experiment delighted me. So I found a quieter spot, set my timer for 25 minutes and began to settle.

This time in public I was more dependent on my strategies: counting my breaths, breathing in-and-out while whispering in my mind, “Yah-weh, Yah-weh,” scanning my body and then noticing sounds, especially voices and a variety of accents.

Afterwards, business completed, I strolled home through the sunlit ravine, noticing more than usual. I stopped to speak with an Asian couple who were about my age. They didn’t speak much English so we pulled out our phones to point to photos and rely on Google translator. “My son in China now,” I ventured. They nodded as if they understood. Their son is studying “p h d” at the nearby university. I spoke to them initially because I thought they were travelers and might be speaking Chinese to each other. I wanted to welcome them. I might not have stopped them if I hadn’t just meditated for 25 minutes in the middle of a shopping center.

This special connection of noticing and welcoming seems to be a direct result of practicing mindfulness here and now, even in a busy public environment. I imagine I’ll continue to carve out time for meditation when I’m alone. And I will not rule out the possibility of practicing anytime anywhere. The resulting options and benefits are too enticing to resist.




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