Your Mind Is A Crowded Party

ENTERING FORMAL MEDITATION PRACTICE, especially in the beginning, can often feel as if you’ve stepped into an extremely cramped and crowded party, with many voices talking loudly and all at once, maybe even over some raucous music that keeps skipping on the same annoying words . . . again and again and again. You feel awkward, hemmed-in, uncomfortably self-conscious.

This party is not what you expected. Inside, you’re standing in the very center of the crowd, and each and every person is facing YOU—there’s your mother and father and boss and coworkers and kids and neighbors and every single one of your friends and family members—all of them pushing and shoving against one another, arguing, fighting for space. Some of them may actually be shouting. And, to your surprise, you might discover that you, yourself, are shouting the loudest.

Everyone here has an opinion, and each voice (including yours) is trying to tell you, in some way or another, all the ways in which you’ve messed up in the past, and about how you can now do it better, and “fix” yourself. There may be several voices suggesting that you can’t do this at all. “You’re no good at this,” you might hear them say. “You’re not doing it right. This is boring. This is too hard. You’ll never get anywhere. What’s the point? Why are you even bothering?”

You may even begin to feel as if you’ve had too much to drink: everything’s a little cloudy, fuzzy, confusing. You might feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, or frustrated that everything’s so loud and that too many voices are talking all at once. You may even begin to regret that you agreed to attend this party at all, and find yourself making up some excuse so you can hurry up and leave.

At this point, I would like to be that calm, friendly hostess, the one who sidles over, gently sets her hand on your shoulder, and begs you to “please, stay.” I will lead you to the most comfortable chair in the house (your best posture), bring you a tall glass of water (your precious breath), and the most delicious dessert I can find (the words of the dharma).

Once you’ve settled down and relaxed a bit, you can gradually begin to slow down, sober up, and take a good look around. 

Some of the people may still be standing around you, trying to get your attention, but many others might now be talking amongst themselves—and not about YOU. You might even begin to notice that the people who are talking to you aren’t making much sense anymore, or, that their mouths are moving, but you’re no longer listening to their words.

Over time, and with practice, you can slowly begin to stand and walk away from all these voices - and their opinions and advise and stories - through smaller and less densly-packed rooms, until you reach the door that leads to the outside, into the crisp, clear night air, where the words become muffled, or even fade altogether. Here, it can be just you, your breath, the warm breeze, and the bright, full moon of your mind.


  1. Love this visual! Thank you.
    Haven't gotten a posting from you in ages. Is this your first one in a long time or did I miss some?

  2. Thanks Harriet! :) And nope, you haven't missed any; I've been in training all summer, but am planning on a regular blog schedule from now on. I hope you enjoy!

  3. Thanks for this, Shell. I love the comparison to a party. I am trying to "stay" at the party when I am feeling stress in my life.

  4. I too love the metaphor. My husband often says "you're not alone in there, are you?" (referring to my busy, crowded, imaginative mind) :-) I loved meeting you this weekend, Shell, and look forward to the mysterious journey we have ahead of us together in our teacher training.