Some years back I was on the Holy Isle, which is a Tibetan Buddhist community a short ferry ride from the Isle of Arran in Scotland. Holy Isle has a high hill in the middle, wild horses, a holy spring, gardens and a meditation center. I was there to do camerawork for a documentary film.

One morning the monks wanted to show us their new meditation pods they were building up the hill. We walked the long path around the island. At the point where the path turned up the hill to the pods, the monk who had been guiding us said he would take the opportunity and do his meditation while we went up and filmed.

Coming back down, as the path turned, I saw him from a distance sitting on a rock meditating. Around him was a group of tourists, standing in a half circle, looking at him. Several were taking photos. Possibly encouraged by him sitting silently and with his eyes closed, some were getting really quite close for the perfect shot, which admittedly probably looked rather great with the monk cross-legged on a rock in his purple robes and the hill behind.

By the time we got all the way down, the tourists had gone. The monk opened his eyes upon hearing our footsteps. We asked if he had been bothered by the group. He said no. We asked if he had noticed them and he said yes of course, they were talking rather loudly. We exclaimed how rude they had been and he said no, he did not think like that. He was grateful for the challenge he was provided to meditate better.

The point of meditation, he said, is to find silence inside you. It is not about telling the world to be silent while you try.

Is it me or is it them

That stuck with me.

Sometimes when I ask a student how their class was they say “oh the person next to me was shuffling a lot, they were distracting to EVERYONE. You should TELL THEM TO STOP.” We do get people in class occasionally who truly do not even try to follow rules and requests. The most comical occasion we probably had was on our intermediate class where we had a visit from some social media influencers. They marched in while on a live feed with “Here I am, it’s hot, it’s going to be hard…” (We did ask them TO STOP.)

Most of the time however the person next to you is trying their absolute very best to do what they can with what they know so far, and so are you. Somehow while they are uncomfortable or unaware or tired or frustrated themselves, you allow that to spread onto your mat and your practice and get frustrated yourself.

The frustration you feel does not really serve you, and the more you try to control what happens around you, the more things you might find that frustrate you. You tell people to shut up, and now other students will get frustrated with you for speaking in class and causing a fuss… and on it goes. It’s not the easiest path for self-awareness and peace.

Perhaps rather than “why is that person being so distracting and annoying” the better question would be “why am I getting distracted and annoyed.” It might feel like a big ask to feel gratitude for an opportunity to meditate towards the person who jumps the queue in a supermarket because they did not even see you – or sits next to you in an empty bus while talking loudly on their phone – or heaven forbid sets their yoga mat right on your eyeline while they could be somewhere else.

All we need to do is try. After all the practice is less about what you achieve and more about what you learn about yourself while trying.



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