How to Achieve Meditation Amidst Chaos
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”
- Max Ehrmann
It is widely accepted that regularly practising meditation can have a profoundly positive effect on both physical and emotional wellbeing.
Meditation has been the focus of much scientific study. It has been proven to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, anxiety, depression, sleep, pain and cognitive function. A recent systemic review of the scientific evidence of the effect of meditation through to 2016 found meditation led to an increase in positive emotions and behaviours. A more recent study showed15 minutes of mediation a day had a similar effect on mood and wellbeing as a day of holiday.
When we first learn to meditate, we are told that the creation of a calm and peaceful environment is essential. That we must find a space and time within our day where we will not be disturbed, and that silence is paramount. This is not, however, real life, and often the pressure of creating such space discourages us from ever getting started in the first place. It seems unrealistic to us to expect that an already chaotic environment will simply move aside so that we can take steps to mitigate that chaos through meditation. We may come to believe that the very thing that might help to alleviate the chaos is impossible to achieve.
How then, can we marry the two? A regular deep meditative practice which is proven to enhance our physical and mental wellbeing thereby improving our ability to navigate chaos, and the chaos itself?
Nothing is permanent, perfect, or personal – Buddhist teaching.
We begin by accepting that nothing is perfect. There may never be the perfect time, place, or opportunity to meditate and in fact, if ever such a time does present itself within our lives, we may well be in a good place and less in need of it than usual. It is usually during the busy, chaotic or even turbulent periods of our lives that meditation may provide the most keenly felt benefits and yet, ironically these are the times where we commonly lack the drive, focus and opportunity to practice it.
When we accept that we are in chaos, we can begin to embrace chaos as part of the experience.
We are wise also if we understand that no distraction is personal. When we become focussed on a task such as meditation and we are interrupted, it is unlikely that the interruption is about us. It may be that people around us are making noise, that we receive a telephone call or that our attention is urgently required, but the truth is that that is all about what is going on for the other person. No-one is disturbing us because they wish to interrupt our task, but because they are consumed with theirs.
We recently offered some training to a large group of delegates where the experience of meditation formed an introductory part of the course. We invited everyone to close their eyes as we took them on a calming journey through the woods with the scent of Scots Pine and Juniper in their nostrils and the sound of birds gossiping in the canopy above as they approached a crackling fire in a clearing ahead. No sooner had we begun this guided meditation than we were met with what felt like the insurmountable obstacle of the overwhelming sound of the chattering and applause of the delegates in the room next door who were enjoying a lively, interactive session of improvisation. There was no way to mitigate it.
It became obvious that the distraction was a problem for our group as they each began to briefly open one eye and shift around in their seats for comfort, but as soon as we invited them to accept the noise as part of the experience and asked them to appreciate that learning to meditate amidst noise and chaos is in fact a superpower, they settled into the task. It is also worth noting that the interruptions were not continuous and so not permanent either.
The truth is that learning to meditate despite or even alongside distraction equips us for using the tool when we need it most.
When we become skilled at meditating in difficult conditions, we become sailors who can leave the safety of the sheltered harbour and navigate the high seas, with our equipment dry and intact.
Cultivate the art of meditation – whatever the situation.
If you have not already done so - set the intention to introduce a regular practice of meditation into your life.
Let go of the need for the perfect time, place, and opportunity. Understand that no such moment exists.
Decide to make use of any small opportunities to practice as they are presented to you even when they are not perfect:
Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your spine straight
Take your awareness to your breathing
The tidal in and out of your breath
Allow your breath to slow and deepen
Drop your shoulders
Relax your jaw
Notice the sense of calm stillness that settles over you
Allow into your awareness, all of the distractions and imperfections that are present during your meditation
The sounds in the room
The ticking of a clock
Conversations that can be heard in the corridor outside
The sound of traffic or sirens in the street
Footsteps outside your door
The ebb and flow of life going by
And the internal thoughts that arrive and leave unbidden
Embrace all of it
And let it become part of your experience
As you press pause
And take in the oasis of stillness
That you have created
Amongst the disorder
Of everyday life
Be grateful for the challenge
Forgive any interruption – it is not personal
Allow it to become part of your learning
In all situations
Say ‘thank you’
As you inhale
And let it go
As you exhale
Set the intention to embrace life exactly as it is
And not as it ‘should be’
All is perfect
All is well
You are exactly where you need to be right now
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your human experience see our book:
 Horowitz S. Health benefits of meditation. Altern Complement Ther. 2010;16:223–8 Chan D, Woollacott M. Effects of level of meditation experience on attentional focus: Is the efficiency of executive or orientation networks improved? J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13:651–7. Burns JL, Lee RM, Brown LJ. The effect of meditation on self-reported measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and perfectionism in a college population. J College Stud Psychother. 2011;25:132–44. Luberto, Christina M.; Shinday, Nina; Song, Rhayun; Philpotts, Lisa L.; Park, Elyse R.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Yeh, Gloria Y. (2017). "A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors". Mindfulness. 9 (3): 708–24.  Christopher J. May, Brian D. Ostafin & Evelien Snippe (2020) The relative impact of 15-minutes of meditation compared to a day of vacation in daily life: An exploratory analysis, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15:2, 278-284