My friend Svetlana lives in a small apartment with two roommates. She's a regular practitioner of zazen. So she asked me about a situation she'd encountered a few days ago.
Right at the time she'd set aside for her zazen practice, her roommates decided to start watching episodes of Family Guy in the adjacent room. There was no way to escape the noise. And to add even more misery, Svetlana is a fan of Family Guy and they were watching episodes she hadn't seen.
Still, she decided to do her zazen anyway. But she wanted to ask me what I thought of that.
I can totally relate! I used to have to do my zazen with the Zen Luv Assassins rehearsing with all amplifiers turned to 11 in the basement -- trying to work out a version of "She Said, She Said" without taking into account that the middle section is in 3/4 time. They just kept falling apart every time they got to the "When I was a boy" section. As the pirate with the steering wheel sticking out of his crotch said, "Arrrr, it was driving me nuts!"
Yet I kept on sitting, not just through that, but through countless other distraction -- noisy roommate arguments, noisy roommate sex, buses, trains and aeroplanes, you name it, I have probably done zazen through it!
At one of my stops on my recent tour some guy kept asking me about, like, if you're sitting and a plane flies overhead you lose your concentration. I kept telling him it didn't matter. He kept pressing the question. I don't know if I ever managed to convince him that zazen was still zazen even if you got distracted.
We are not trying to "establish one-pointed concentration" or whatever else some meditation teachers in other religions try and go for. It's still zazen even if you're doing it on a noisy playground at recess time.
Of course you should try and find the quietest spot possible. If you can wait for your roommates to finish watching Family Guy or talk them into using headphones that would always be better. And, to answer another F.A.Q., no, you cannot "do zazen to music." Meaning, you should not deliberately introduce distractions or entertainment into your practice. But sometimes the quietest spot you can find isn't very quiet. That doesn't mean you should neglect the practice. There is still some benefit to be had even if you have to do your zazen among all sorts of noise and distractions.
One of the strangest distractions I've had to deal with comes from Zen teachers who think it's necessary to provide entertainment for people who are sitting. There's a tradition called "kusen" in which the teacher gives a dharma talk during sitting. I hate that! I also hate it when they beat drums and ring bells unnecessarily during practice in a misguided attempt to ape certain misguided traditions present in misguided temples in Japan.
But you deal with what you gotta deal with.
OK. That's my sermon for the day. Now it's off to the salt mines to try and write some material for my next book. See ya!
P.S. By the way, I guess it wasn't the Jerry Rubin who came to that rally the other day. There is a politician here in Santa Monica named Jerry Rubin who is just about the right age, right "look" and right political affiliation (he lists himself on ballots as "Peace Activist Jerry Rubin") to be the Jerry Rubin and really seems to make no great effort to let people know he's not the Jerry Rubin.