Friday, April 15, 2011

How Wind Chimes Can Make You a Better Person and a Better Neighbor

I live in the city, in a townhome surrounded by houses, condos and apartments. A few of my neighbors have wind chimes, which sound lovely during the day. Their tinkling evokes harmony with Nature. However, they are not harmonious with the actual nature of living in a high-density neighborhood where many, many others who would prefer to be about the business of sleeping are instead forced to contemplate those wind chimes by night. This is no different than my feeling about music. By day, I too appreciate Eminem but I dislike hearing “3 A.M.” emanating loudly from your balcony at 3 A.M. At best it shows a lack of awareness for others. At worst it shows a lack of concern or respect for anyone but yourself.

A friend of mine reminded me to consider what Osho said about resistance. Osho is an enlightened mystic and prolific author from India and in one of his teachings he said if you are irritated by something (say a noisy machine), then become one with that object because resistance creates unrest. I admire this way of thinking and, when I remember to employ it I find it to be very helpful, especially with people who own viewpoints that differ radically from my own, or situations where I have no control. If I can’t do anything to change the external circumstances, then learning to accept it and changing how I react to it is important. I will even try it on my refrigerator some time if it ever bothers me. However, sometimes employing a contemplative response to a situation, when action would more easily and quickly solve the problem is not wise.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a spiritual, introspective person, so I typically appreciate this kind of thinking, but sometimes common sense dictates a solution that is more practical. A contemplative, introspective approach to this problem is not going to get you a good night’s sleep, and that is what is at stake here, not so much your deep-seated, unexamined feelings to this particular sound and how you might change those feelings. That is a wonderful solution if there is no other choice. There are other options in this scenario that could be in perfect alignment with your spiritual ideal. Directly communicating with your neighbor in a non-violent, kind, and honest way might get the noise to stop quickly. It may also bring awareness to your neighbor and even strengthen your relationship.

I’ve gone to my neighbor’s house in the middle of the night and plucked the offending wind chime off the hook and gently set it down on the ground to silence it for the night, leaving a note on the door that said something like “I have been having trouble sleeping because the wind chimes keep waking me. I am sorry for the imposition, but would you be willing to take them down? My family and co-workers like me better when I am well-rested.” The neighbor acquiesced. I have also waited until the next day and directly talked to a chime-loving neighbor about it in a gentle, humorous way with the same outcome that seemed to make us both happy. I realize it doesn’t always work and the neighbor could refuse your request, but I would prefer to assume the best of my neighbors and try to solve the problem in the most expeditious and direct way. In the rare case where it doesn’t go the way you had hoped it would, then you have to explore other options that are within your control, the legal limits, and your spiritual ideal. This can become challenging when you are sleep deprived. Osho’s teachings might come in handy then, along with a white noise generating fan in your bedroom.

Fond as I am of introspection, I don’t believe suffering in silence unnecessarily is spiritual if there is a way to solve a problem. Avoiding conflict is not spiritual. Handling conflict mindfully and making your needs known in a skillful way is a perfectly valid choice and an ability that is necessary to cultivate, assuming you do not live alone, isolated from others. Our neighbors provide the perfect scenario for the practical application of the spiritual lessons we learn and idealize.

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