Upon my return to Zen in February of 2019, the first impact I observed was how I was filling my life with noise. At work, I would often have music on in the background. Here is a picture of my work desk. Notice the record player, stereo, and speaker.
Likewise, the TV in the living room was always on. While driving, some sort of audio was always playing. I would flip through social media platforms to kill the time.
My return to Zen allowed me to see how this noise was causing me to be diluted, distracted, scatter brained. Instead of being at work, part of my attention was on work while simultaneously part of my attention was on the background noise. In fact, before my return to zen, I had experiences which were evidence that the noise was a hindrance. When I needed to really concentrate, I would turn the music off, which was a sort of experiential evidence that the noise was distracting, preventing me from applying my full attention to the present moment, here, now (eg. mindfullness).
Zazen (sitting meditation) was quite difficult at first. Rarely could I make it to the number 10 while counting my breath. This was certainly the result of all of the unnecessary noise in my life. However, my little boy was a great encourager. He would pull out my zafu (meditation pillow) and say "daddy sit!"
Upon my return to zen, I signed myself up for a period of noise detoxification. I started to work and drive in silence. I completely stopped watching TV. I removed my social media accounts and uninstalled every app from my phone other than that which was needed for work and emergencies. This was certainly symbolic and personal for me, as I have a lifelong relationship with music. I am a musician, performing with bands and producing albums. I also am a record collector, and enjoy the company of other enthusiaists.
The noise detoxification certainly was not easy but was made easier by my desire to return to a healthy place. There were periods where there was desire to bring back the noise but these periods were gradually less often, less severe, and got replaced by an enjoyment of silence. I had totally forgot how enjoyable silence can be! And furthermore, my bond with my family and friends returned. I all of the sudden had time, and was able to give others my full, undiluted attention.
Also, I recognized that the noise was not the enemy that needed to be squashed. A world without music is not a world I would want to live in. In fact, classifying noise as the enemy would be counter productive, as it would only create a duality problem (good vs evil, us vs them, likes vs dislikes). I did my best to keep in mind to not classify or label the noise as the enemy. Instead, I just needed a sort of fasting period to see from a fresh perspective so as to cultivate a healthy relationship with music. Let's face it, I'm not going to stop being a musician. That's unreasonable. This practice isn't about avoiding things that you label as problematic. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's about facing your demons, or better yet, self-examination that creates awareness of why you classified something as problematic in the first place.
Zen says that we are fundamentally good/whole/perfect, and it is only our own confusion that makes us believe we are not good/whole/perfect. In this way, this practice is about recognizing your own confusion and to do the hard work of undoing said confusions so as to return to your original nature, which is good/whole/perfect.
After the detoxification period I started to reintroduce music, but in a different way. Most notably, I didn't use music as a way to fill the background with noise. Instead, I would set aside time to listen to music, uninterrupted, so as to give the experience my full, undivided attention. In other words, I enjoyed music mindfully.
This also produced a sort of awareness. I started to observe how many people were constant multitaskers. For example, instead of watching TV, I noticed how a vast number of people were attempting to watch TV while also flipping through their smart phones while also attempting to partake in conversation with others. This constant multitasking was certainly causing people to not be in the present moment. Instead, they were jumping around these different experiences. I would sometimes attempt to engage with people and their was a delayed response or "what did you just say" as their attention was distracted.
This was actually pretty fascinating and distrubing to observe. Let's take boredom as an example. I would witness how people couldn't manage more than a few moments of boredom. As soon as boredom started to sink it, it took only moments for the person to fill their life with some sort of entertainment, most commonly, their phone. Even if their phone experience was boring, it was somehow still necessary. It made me wonder why people didn't try to look at boredom. What's this boredom thing all about? What is boredom? What is wrong with being bored? et cetera.
It was quite difficult for me to presuade others in my life to see the benefits of being focused on one task at hand, because they had witnesses how I was once a multitasker myself. I approached this by first trying to lead by example. I did this by demonstrating how when I was doing something, I was doing it fully, instead of having tentacles in multiple jars of honey.
Before my return to zen, I recall a number of times when I would flip through social media when I could have been interacting with my 2 year old boy. It certainly was hard to admit that I had choosen social media over my boy, and this was a necessary healing I was going to have to experience.
I also came to recongize how the noise in my life resulted in a noisy meditation. At first, remaining focused on the breath for a 10 count was nearly impossible. Rarely would I make it to 10. Instead, my mind would easily drift into some thought process. After my return to zen, my ability to stay mindful of the breath, in the present moment, was greatly increased.