I teach yoga and meditation in a beautiful studio complete with an altar, weekly fresh flowers arrangements by a Japanese master, and lovely natural light from the skylights in the curved ceiling. Except for occasional bursts of low-level noise from the bike shop on one side, and the restaurant on the other, the environment is “perfect”—beautiful, uplifting, and quiet.
A loud piercing sound
One morning, as I was preparing my class for deep relaxation and guided meditation, we were suddenly jarred by the loud piercing sound of a smoke detector announcing that its battery was low. The offending object was attached to the wall near the two story high ceiling and there was no way I could disarm it.
Hoping for the best, I assured my students that “it was just a battery problem” and nothing to be concerned about. But after a few minutes it went off again, and thereafter continued to beep intermittently.
Tensed for flight of fight!
Imagine lying comfortably in deep relaxation, a pillow under your head or a bolster under your knees for maximum comfort, mind and body prepared to relax and renew after an invigorating morning class of Ananda Yoga. You hear the words “Bones, muscles, movement, I surrender now; anxiety, elation, depression, churning thoughts, all these I give into the hands of Peace.”*
You are drifting into a state of deep relaxation and then WHAM! a loud, piercing, grating sound, designed to awaken people out of their deepest slumber, jolts you back into your body, now tensed for flight or fight!
This gives some idea of what I was up against. If the class was to continue, I needed to find a solution—quickly.
My prayer is answered
Swami Kriyananda suggests that mentally placing a blue cross of light over a phone, door, or person can deflect negative energy, so I tried it. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. There was nothing negative about the noise; it was a neutral event. I was the one who was becoming negative.
I also prayed feebly for the beeping to stop—“feebly” because I was annoyed and distracted, not at all focused and concentrated. Still, feeble as it was, I think my prayer was answered.
Suddenly I had the thought not to reject the sound but to incorporate it into the deep relaxation and guided meditation. In the spirit of embracing the situation, I asked the class to actively listen for the sound of the alarm, and to count each beep, giving each a number: one, two, three, etc. This brought smiles to their faces.
No longer tensing against it
They began to count silently and I practiced with them. The beeping continued intermittently but we were no longer tensing against it while also trying to relax. We were now receptive, ready to name it, and to organize it with numbers.
While counting the beeps, we were also counting our breaths—inhale 4, hold 7, exhale 8. We were experimenting with a new type of measured breathing that required more concentration than the usual even count breathing (inhale 8, hold 8, exhale 8).
More focused on the present
For all of us, the extra effort of counting the beeps and our breaths had the effect of keeping our thoughts focused and in the present moment. Calmly centered, we continued counting the beeps as we sat for the guided meditation.
Later I recalled Swami Kriyananda’s description of being at the dentist’s and choosing to go through the procedure without pain medication. He tolerated the pain by remaining centered in the spine and breath. When the pain became too intense to ignore, he would focus on the pain and go to the center of it. At the center, the pain disappeared.
We were not able to go deeply enough into the sounds to banish them from our consciousness, but we entered into them deeply enough to completely transcend our frustration. What we had been dreading and bracing against was no longer a concern—it simply was.
A life lesson in calm acceptance
At the end of the guided meditation, the students had peaceful and happy expressions. We all agreed that bringing the sound of the smoke detector into our meditation had brought a deeper than usual experience. It was a life lesson in calmly accepting the things over which we have no control, and not letting them rob us of our peace.
Out in the waiting room we could still hear the beeping of the alarm, but the sound no longer bothered us. Before leaving, however, one student said, “You will ask the management to fix it won’t you?”
After all, keeping your peace means accepting what you can’t change and also acting to change what you can!