I sit writing on a train from Somerset England to Bangor Wales. We pass field upon rolling green field each full of sheep and newborn little lambs. These are interspersed with the magnificent yellow gorse hedges and of the bright yellow rape seed flowers that will eventually be harvested to make rape seed oil. It is absolutely beautiful!
I just finished a 5 day silent retreat during which I spent 5 nights sleeping in a dormitory with 5 other women. I love staying in dorms as it is such a great opportunity to practice patience, tolerance and mindful awareness. This particular dormitory provided an exceptionally good opportunity!
In one corner of the room lay my bed and two others. It just so happened that the young woman across from me had a cold and was sneezing and up to the bathroom frequently all night and the elder women in the bed closest to me left a little note saying,
“Dear friend, If I snore and it’s a problem please let me know and I will go downstairs.“
“How bad could it be?” I thought. Things went smoothly for the first two hours of the night but this short interlude soon came to an end. Between the sound of flushing toilets and loud footsteps, I was also faced with deep, resonant, loud irregular snores. The fact that anyone could sleep through this seems miraculous to me! Lying in bed wide awake in the middle of the night I had no choice but to practice being mindful. My initial reaction was definitely frustration and agitation. I started to think about whether I should awaken the snorer or wait until the morning to advise her that she was disturbing everyone. Or was it best to stay silent and let her enjoy her experience? The mind was now fully active.
Coming to my senses I realized it would be unkind to wake her or ask her to leave. How best to pass the night then? I thought of hearing the snores as waves and imagined myself sitting near the ocean. That did not work as they were too irregular. Finally I turned on the small bedside lamp and started to read. I was reading a book written by St. Therese de Lisieux (who lived in a Carmelite convent in the late 1800’s) and opened it randomly to a page. My eyes landed upon the following:
I was placed in front of a Sister who had a strange habit… As soon as she arrived for meditation she started making a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing to shells together. It would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was very certainly unaware of her “click”. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the Sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise…. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me. I was obliged simply to make a prayer of suffering. While suffering, I searched for a way of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing. Instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.
Yes, there it was… Opening my awareness to an acceptance of the entire experience, the full orchestra of sound and inner mental movement. By practicing mindful listening, I could hear each snore for what it was… vibrations.
My snoring and sniffling roommates stayed in our room the entire retreat and each night I awoke to their fine orchestral sounds. Somehow it didn’t seem so bothersome after the first night though. It just became an expected part of the nightly music. And to my amazement, not one of the other dormitory cohabitants complained either. We all had a great opportunity to develop compassion for those who snore or have loved ones who snore and to truly deeply practice equanimity and mindful listening.
Wishing you all beautiful deep sleeps!
P.s. If you or your spouse snores, do consider getting this assessed medically and consider trying the nasal strips available over the counter as they work quite well for some people. Furthermore, it is sometimes necessary to change rooms!