Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Meditation Etiquette

He yawned, loudly, not just once, but repeatedly. And burped, three times. And wiggled around, continuously. He, was the guy sitting next to me during group meditation the other night.  Half way through our 45 minutes of sitting, I found in my heart feelings like hate, and exasperation. The good Buddhist tried to intervene. Got to be compassionate, and equanimous. Maybe the guy had a long day at work, and stomach problems? Maybe he suffered chronic pain? Self-righteous one  would not have it. Can't be making excuses for the dude. He should know better. This is a meditation hall, not a frat house.

Of course, I had to make the best of the experience. After all, what better way to practice equanimity? Sitting, perfectly still, with thoughts, and feelings, and auditory sensations. Noticing all.

Does this sound familiar? Do you have similar tales to tell?


  1. I can certainly relate.

    I've been the guy, unable to sit still, shaking a little bit now and then, cracking my knuckles, unable to bear the tension building up throughout my body. It was bad enough that the monitor came over and asked me (politely) to sit still during the next period. I later overheard that someone had complained to the monitor and they felt basly about it. For me though, it was really helpful to know that I was having an effect on my fellow sitters. It showed me just how much we can effect each other within that shared sacred space.

    On the other hand, I was once sitting next to a guy who kept rocking back and forth, wiping his face, and once or twice tipped over and (slightly) knocked into me. I was pissed, let me tell you. I figured he was hung over, or just been out late the night before and couldn't stay awake. I kept thinking, "jeez, you shouldn't come sit in the (near) dark with your eyes half closed if you're that tired!" After the sit, I found the guy in the common area, drinking water, his face bright red amd just drenched in sweat, but he was very clearly wide awake. Something more than a late night had been going on with him, and I was happy in the end to have kept my opinions to myself.

    Anyway, just a couple of personal stories from both sides of the situation.

  2. Thanks Ian, for sharing 'both sides'! Whatever takes place, it is always a great subject for meditation, anyway . . . Remembering that 'good' and 'pleasant' are two different things when it comes to meditation.

    This being said, I do think it is socially appropriate to show respect to other fellow meditators. While I certainly understand the difficulty in sitting still, and the occasional cough and wheezing, I am less accepting of noisy yawns or other indulgent behaviors.

  3. What I like the most if the stomach gurgles. They seem to come in waves, where several people get them within minutes of each other. Its a great reminder of the physical body's presence and the many things going on inside our "skin bag". :)

  4. What is the difference between sitting with a window open in your home or in a group setting with a person who is having problems with the monkey in his mind. Having compassion for the person that is having difficulty with their practice is important. If your concentration shifts to the person making noise gently bring it back. It is no different than the siren outside or the observer in your mind wondering when the bell is going to ring.

    This is just my initial thought of what in a perfect situation I would hope to do. I have had the snorer in the back of class, I have also myself yawned or been overly figity due to other stresses that I could not let go of in practice. On a good day I watch my frustration and let it go or observe its cause. On a bad day I try and force myself back to the breath.

  5. I've certainly been the guy with stomach problems, once during a day-long sit. So grateful no one said anything!

    Token worst etiquette story: Took a friend I'd met at a local sitting group to a template downtown once, and he put his cell phone beside his cushion and left it on! Then, when he got the call he expected, he walked out talking. Everyone stayed still and calm, and the teacher didn't bat an eye. Sometimes when I'm nervious about being unintentionally noisy, I think of how gracious everyone was in that situation and calm down a little.

  6. Jim, and 'averylongway', thank you for sharing your experiences. I, too have had contributed my share of 'noises' during group meditation. We all do. What I reacted to was the rudeness and obvious lack of respect. One can yawn or burp of course, but one does not have to do it loudly. One can fidget, but do it so as to minimize impact on one's neighbors. Same way one ought to remember to turn off their cell phones, or not talk. That's all.

  7. One day during a 3 hour session with half a dozen other people, an experience of waves of dullness and sleepiness began to fill consciousness. Standing up quietly, continuing meditation, I noticed that the next meditator to my right had lay down and was now sleeping on the floor in the meditation room. First irritation, then anger, then full blown outrage filled my mind as my neighbor peacefully rested on the next cushion over.

    After suffering the thoughts of ill-will for some time, I was finally successful in unwinding the defilements with the compassion of reality:
    I did not know that he had meant to sleep,
    I did not know how bad a night he had had,
    I did not know if he was taking medication,
    I did not even know if that was the best thing he could have done. The fact was, I did not know anything about his reality. All I had thought that I knew was false-illusion-judgement, and it led to suffering.

    Before the session was over, the guy had woken up and was sitting upright in a meditation posture. Afterwards, he looked refreshed.

    The final thing that really bugged my mind, though, was that no one else in the room even noticed that the guy had napped. Apparently, I didn't know anything about their reality either!

    Lots of lessons in this for me, not the least of which is the most obvious - the most challenging situations act like a litmus test, showing where I am more clearly than the calm of daily living.


  8. Yes, this is definitely one of the advantages of living life as a householder. Lots of social opportunities to find out more about ourselves :) Although I am sure monastics do get their fair share as well!