Tuning in, not tuning out

Our minds, believe or not, are very much like a radio. I’m sure most folks don’t use radios as often with the advent of iPods and mp3 players, but back in the day, before digital tuning, we had to use a knob to find the station we wanted to listen to.

Turning the knob back and forth, we fought off the static until we would get a nice clean station to listen to. Tuned in, we would sit back and enjoy the music coming from our speakers, and it was easy to listen to once tuned in properly.

As meditators, I think one of our goals is similar to the way we used to tune in the radio. As we sit, quietly with our minds, we try to tune into something a bit different, silence. In silence we tame the static of our minds and we are able to truly listen to that space underneath. There, we can begin to cultivate the other goals our practice may call for. Whether that is compassion for all beings, equanimity, quelling anger and destructive emotions, etc.

It is important to be tuned into our minds during meditation, or else our “monkey mind” will get the better of us. In the stillness of our minds, the random chaos that is the thinking brain can be tuned in to a state we can comprehend the dharma in a way that is pure and unadulterated. The teachings are easier to comprehend and the information we absorb during this time of contemplation stays with us more.

Our internal “radios” don’t only have one station though, through our practice of quiet mind we learn to tune into other stations. For instance, how many times per day do you say “what?” or “huh?” or “I didn’t hear that, could you repeat it again I was spacing out?” This type of thing happens because we aren’t truly listening, we are tuned out. All we hear is static, white noise.

This can be very frustrating, not only to the person we weren’t listening to, but for ourselves. We are so busy doing all sorts of stuff, multi-tasking, instead of chilling out, tuning in and really listening. In his latest book “Unlimiting Mind”, Andrew Olendzki talks about multi-tasking and how it does not benefit us at all, and I agree.

If we are not properly tuned in to the conversation, the frustration will always be there. We may hear things incorrectly, like an instruction given to us by our boss and get back to work, finding out later the project we worked on all day was all for naught, because we weren’t listening to what we were really asked to achieve. A whole day wasted because we didn’t pay attention.

Take this example for instance. How frustrating is it when we go to a restaurant and order a host of items for ourselves and the guests at our table. The order is delivered to the table and nothing is correct. How frustrating right? You asked for yellow mustard, not that spiced stuff. It makes a difference though doesn’t it? It’s not what you wanted. Imagine the frustration of those that are talking to us and we are not listening.

Remember the old game telephone we played as a kid, there would be a line of kids and one would say something to the kid next to them, then the next kid would repeat it on and on until it reached the end. By the time it reached the end though, what we might have said at the beginning is nothing like the story at the end. Why? Well in this case, more than one person was not listening properly.

What a mess that creates. It might be funny when we were kids, it’s not so funny today.

I have found that when talking with someone, the best way to give undivided attention is to look them in the eye. Staring at the wall or something else behind them does not help, we might miss a word or two, maybe the most important part of the conversation.

So, I know I need to practice this tuning in thing, not only in my practice but off the cushion as well. Staring today, I’m taking my own advice and will be fully engaged when talking with someone else. I hope you will too, you never know what might happen if you don’t.


  1. This is a great analogy for practice. And one found in the Pali cannon frequently, though it was more to do with intruments being “in tune”.

    As for me, I’m frequently tuned in, just to the wrong station…..

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