Tuning In

A Full Stop One Phrase Practice

Photo by Inés Castellano on Unsplash

Stringed instruments, by their very nature, go out of tune. As a harpist, it is the nature of my harp’s many strings, 47 to be exact, to go out of tune regularly. Before the invention of hand-held electronic tuners, tuning presented a daunting and time-consuming task. As I became more proficient, however, I began noticing the complementary, present moment benefits of tuning. Interestingly, when my harp is out of tune, my mind and body feel equally out of tune, discordant, and mildly irritated. Tuning, as the first step of a practice session, centers, settles, and grounds me. Almost magically, as I bring each string to pitch, my mind clears and my body aligns in sympathetic resonance like I am receiving a musical massage. “Right now, it’s like this.”

I consciously take some deep breaths, close my eyes, attune and savor. I begin my musical warmup feeling recalibrated, in tune and at home.

Photo by Lefty Kasdaglis on Unsplash

This morning was an unusually early one for me, and I was rewarded with an invitation to experience an awe-eliciting sunrise. I paused and enjoyed vast, colorful aesthetic beauty, punctuated occasionally by the movement of high cirrus clouds. “Right now, it’s like this.”

My breathing deepened incrementally as my eyes feasted on the sunrise in its entirety. I felt peace, gratitude, and an alignment of my mind, body, and soul.

Moments like these happen far too infrequently. Even though I know intellectually that my innate, peaceful state of mind is always available, all too often, I am caught up in personal thinking sound bites. How can I “check-in” to the immediacy of my experience more often, tune in to who I am and what I know to be true, and silence the continuous hum of my discursive thinking?

Photo by Floraf on Unsplash

Later on, as my day (and thinking) continued, I began feeling like Alexander’s character from the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It all started with a glance out of the same “sunrise” window where I now see snow falling.

(A snippet of my internal dialogue.) “It’s snowing. Again. I’m sick of snow. Why do I live in Minnesota? I wish I could vacation south this year — another victim of Covid. The roads are becoming snow-covered. Why does it always snow when I need to drive somewhere? I wish it weren’t snowing. I want yesterday’s warmer, sunny day. Snow is ruining my morning. Will I have to change my plans? I remember the weather was like this when I had my car accident last year. I hate winter driving (and on, and on, and on.)” “Right now, it’s like this.”

Some deep breaths, now paired with the 5–word phrase, usher in a sliver of clear sky mind to poke through my thought storm. It is a moment of awareness and acceptance amid my resistance to the present snowy moment. (Internal Dialogue) “Yes, it’s snowing. whether I want it to be like this or not, this is what it’s like right now.”

“Right now, it’s like this” reminds me I have a choice, at any moment and with any experience. I always have a choice. I can pause with awareness to allow a break in my mind’s chatter to savor and sustain a positive experience (and build new neural structures), or I can pause to settle my thoughts and emotions so they can pass through and create space for innate wisdom to emerge.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

I began inserting “right now, it’s like this” into my thought storylines and “spin-offs” (as often as I can remember) after reading an article by meditation teacher Vinny Ferraro. The phrase was initially introduced by Ajahn Sumedho, a US-born monk and Theravada teacher. The full context of Ajahn Sumedho’s teaching is as follows:

“We can notice ‘the way it is’ without adopting a ‘want-don’t-want’ viewpoint. With breath and awareness we are just witnessing and noting how it is now, in this moment with a clear heart-mind. Right now it’s like this.”

The language of this phrase is humble, deceptively simple, but not easy in practice. How can I build this phrase into a mantra practice during moments of reactivity and activated thought energy? Can I co-exist, living in peace with reality as it is, as often as possible? To answer this, it is helpful to remember that there are two sides to every coin. For me, it starts with sustaining positive experiences by practicing, again and again, during delightful and touching moments. “Right now, it’s like this”. Breathe, attune and savor. The more I remember, the more likely the phrase “pops in” when I need it most.

Photo by Sanni Sahil on Unsplash

Now it’s your turn. Try it for yourself. Right now, in this moment. Take a deep breath, pause, and settle. “Right now, it’s like this.”

Turning inward, check-in with compassionate awareness to whatever is going on. Breathe deeply. Notice any bodily sensations. Breathe deeply again. Note your state of mind. Bring attention to your emotions. Listen to your thoughts and storylines. What are they saying? Can you let them go, or let them be, and allow for a gap in your thinking? Can you open to the possibility of connecting with the open, boundless dimension of your being? Can you compassionately open to the inner sanctuary and peace that lies within? “Right now, it’s like this.”

“Through the centuries, the wise have told us to live in the now. This is why I say to you, the past is a ghost that cannot be held in the palm of your hand. The future cannot be grasped, no matter how desirable or enticing. Nor can the present be held, no matter how beautiful or exciting. Begin the process of nourishing the soul by living in the now.” (Syd Banks)

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Paula Smith

Paula Smith

School Psychologist, Professional Harpist, Certified Dynamic Mindfulness Trainer, Certified SEE Learning Curriculum, Author of “Core Goodness” K-4 Curriculum