It’s hard enough meditating with all the thoughts your mind generates.
Adding environmental noise on top of your normal mental chatter can create a distracting atmosphere where it feels almost impossible to meditate.
But surprisingly, it is possible.
Even though I’m a die-hard “noise-canceling headphones and music” type of meditator, I even gave “noisy meditation” a try (I’ll share my experience below).
From noise-canceling devices to headphones to simply training your mind to observe noise differently, let’s explore different ways to learn how to meditate comfortably in a noisy environment.
Is it possible to meditate with noise around?
Yes, it is possible to meditate with noise around.
In fact, it’s possible to even view noise as a teacher, in a way, because noisy distractions require you to find a sense of calm regardless.
However, the easiest way (especially for beginners to meditation) is simply to use a noise-canceling device or listen to meditation music with headphones. That’s my approach. I’m sensitive to noise and distraction, so I’ve gotten into the habit of always using noise-canceling headphones along with meditation music.
There are a few different ways to go about this, so let’s explore a few of the most popular methods.
How do you meditate in a noisy place?
Noisy places require additional considerations when meditating. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to find a place that’s not noisy, or find a way to block the noise. For advanced meditators, it may be possible to meditate without letting the noise distract you, or to meditate on the noise itself as you quiet your mind.
Let’s review the options.
- Isolate yourself: If you’re in a noisy place, the best option is to find a quiet place. Whether that means leaving the place you’re in, or staying but finding the quietest corner or room possible, see if there’s a way to find a relatively calmer environment.
- Block the noise: Using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, see if you can dull the noise or remove it entirely.
- Drown out the noise with music: Turning up the meditation music on your headphones has the effect of drowning out any noises that may be coming from your environment.
- Noise-canceling headphones plus music: This is my preferred option. With noise-canceling headphones plus meditation music, you can nearly guarantee that you have control over your auditory environment.
- Change your perception of the noise: Some more advanced meditators find that they’re able to meditate on the sounds themselves. By shifting focus to the sounds passing by and the vibrations they cause in your eardrums, without assigning value or judgment to them, you may find you’re able to reframe the noises from “bad” to “neutral.”
My experience with “noisy” meditation
Normally, I meditate 100% of the time using noise-canceling headphones and meditation music.
Sounds are distracting to me, and typically pull me out of the meditation experience. I feel like my thoughts wander even more than normal in a noisy environment.
For the purposes of this article, I experimented with something different.
Rather than put my headphones on like normal, I simply set a timer for fifteen minutes and sat down. I even left the window open, inviting the sounds of birds chirping, but also heavy machinery, cars going by, and (worst of all) the noise of people talking.
The first few minutes of my experiment were corrupted when my dog immediately jumped on my lap and nudged me, trying to figure out why I wasn’t petting her.
After a while, I was able to settle in, and so was she. Even as trucks rolled by and irritating industrial noises mixed with the beautiful sounds of the breeze and the birds, it felt like a good session.
Mostly, I found the experience as good as a normal “headphones and music” meditation experience. Not magical, not better, and not worse.
It helped going into the experience with the intention not to judge sounds. This was a key difference between this and past headphone-less meditations, in which I mainly focused on wishing distracting noises didn’t exist.
This time, I mostly succeeded at not labeling them as good or bad, and I tried to take a stance of curiosity and openness towards the sounds, rather than wishing they weren’t there.
The world is a noisy place
If you’re a beginner, consider using noise-canceling headphones and drowning out the noises of the outside world. Often, this makes it easier to maintain your focus during your meditation practice.
However, as you progress in your practice, you may want to experiment with allowing yourself to hear the sounds from your environment during your meditation, rather than blocking them. The key is to process these sounds neutrally, rather than assign judgment to them. Like the thoughts passing through your mind, you’ll want to observe them without judgment and without clinging to them.
(Yes, even that annoying jackhammer noise outside).
After all, that’s how you can maintain a calm, focused, stress-free state in the real world. Because in the end, meditation is an attention practice for the real world.
And the real world is a noisy place.
Frequently asked questions
Does it have to be quiet to meditate?
No, it doesn’t have to be quiet to meditate. In fact, for some people it can be helpful to meditate in a noisy place. This is because you will learn how to focus and calm your mind in the midst of distractions. Advanced meditators may find that they can focus on the noise itself and remove any distractions.
Is it better to meditate in silence or with music?
Both silence and music can be helpful when it comes to meditation. Silence can help you to focus on your thoughts and sounds, while music can help to drown out distractions and create a calming atmosphere. It all depends on what works best for you.
What sounds are good for meditation?
There are a variety of sounds that can be helpful for meditation. Some people prefer silence, while others find that calming music or nature sounds help to focus the mind and create a peaceful atmosphere. It all depends on what works best for you. Personally, I find that noise-canceling headphones with meditation music work the best for me. This allows me to remove any distractions from my auditory environment and focus on my practice.
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Hi there—my name is Ryan. My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 after I joined a ten-day silent retreat. I started Mindfulness Box because thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.