A noisy tent and the perfect opportunity for mindfulness
Dr Liza Chervonsky
When someone tells you they went to a workshop on mindfulness, you’ll likely picture in your mind a serene room and people sitting in silence, stillness, and serenity. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? So now picture this instead: A large marquee tent, people talking loudly in the background, noise inside and outside the tent, and the people sitting with their eyes closed are gritting their teeth in frustration. These were the conditions that I had to run a mindfulness workshop recently and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to teach the audience how to practically apply mindfulness in every day life.
A few weekends ago, I was asked to do a presentation and a practical workshop on mindfulness at the Shabbat Tent, at Bondi Beach. I have done many of these kinds of workshops before, but this one was different. For starters, it was in a massive marquee tent and if that wasn’t different enough it was full of distractions, noise, people walking in and out of our space, and furniture being moved around in the background.
During the first part of my presentation, we didn’t even notice the distractions much. People were focused on learning about mindfulness and the principles seemed simple enough: Be present, be with your experience, be objective, don’t judge, accept, and observe. My participants appeared eager to try out the principles, but as they closed their eyes for the first time during this session they suddenly began experiencing the intrusions of noise, scraping of chairs, laughter …. and then the inevitable judgments. “Why are those people talking? What’s wrong with them? Why can’t it be quiet? I can’t do this! This is impossible!”. I must admit, at first I too had a few of these sorts of thoughts, but I suddenly realised that this was the greatest opportunity to demonstrate that when you are thrown into a situation which is far from ideal and yet you have little control over, there are only two options: (1) Accept this moment and try to be with it, without buying into your judgments OR (2) Focus intensely on all the things that are wrong, resist reality, judge everyone and everything that is wrong. You can probably guess which ones leaves you with more anger and frustration. I explained this to the audience and we tried again, this time remembering that the principles of mindfulness can be applied even in moments when conditions are far from ideal. The outcome? People mostly found themselves much more at peace this time and were able to bring their awareness back to their breath more effectively. They even seemed surprised, yet inspired by the realisation that fighting and resisting the current reality wasn’t helpful to them in the moment. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the story.
So what will I do next time someone asks me to do a mindfulness meditation workshop in a tent? Absolutely, sign me up… and I might even bring my own percussion set next time, just in case there isn’t enough noise already.