Monday, April 12, 2010

Tuning In

I was walking upstairs yesterday when my wife asked me to tune in the radio in the kitchen. She was preparing dinner and her hands were covered with food. The radio's tuning seemed to be just a little bit off; sometimes the signal was very clear and at other times there was a lot of static. So I adjusted the dial a bit and when it seemed clear I headed back upstairs only to notice that there was a lot of static once again. I came back down and readjusted it, only to have the same results. Eventually I realized that my body moving up the stairs was actually what was altering the signal and causing the static. The radio was already tuned in.

Practicing with mindfulness is similar to tuning the radio. Initially we turn the dial this way and that trying to locate the signal. Once we find the signal we try to calibrate the dial with very minor turns until the signal is as clear as we can make it. Then we stop adjusting the dial and listen, even if the signal wavers occasionally.

With mindfulness, first we have to locate it, get a sense of what it is. Then we spend a lot of time tuning in and calibrating the dial: recognizing when there is judgment, decision-making or storytelling about a moment of experience and letting go of our identification with those qualities so that what is left is bare attention. Eventually we reach a point where we have to stop doing mindfulness, where we stop trying to be mindful. The effort to keep adjusting the dial, to be mindful, actually begins to interfere with the ability to be mindful. So we begin to trust that the signal is there, though it may waver at times as conditions change. All we have to do is listen without trying to make the signal be any particular way.

As we listen, we notice sensation arising and passing, thoughts coming and going, moods settling in and then evaporating. In time we may recognize that the sense of some one listening is just another song playing on the channel, no different from the other sensations, thoughts or moods that take a spin. Eventually we may even realize that it's not the radio that carries, or knows, the songs. It's the signal. It's the signal that is there whether the radio is turned on and tuned in or not. We may realize that there is something greater than the radio or the song, something that we can't locate but that always is.

Just tune in and relax.