Change the Station
For many years, I set the idea of mindfulness on a shelf in my mind. Much like a cherished heirloom or fragile gift, I admired it from afar but dared not come close for fear of shattering the illusion I had worked so carefully to form about myself and in particular, about my own shortcomings when it came to being mindful.
As the years went by, research started popping up everywhere. It was unanimous. Practicing mindfulness had proven itself time and time again as an integral part of our health, just as important as diet and exercise. But much like a proper diet and exercise regime, the act of meditation was just as, if not more elusive, in terms of where and how to begin. There were guided meditations and popular apps like Buddhify and Headspace that caught my attention first. I gave them a try, but I would only ever use them sporadically and usually at times when I felt overwhelmed or just bored.
There were also tools like yoga and mantras. I tried those too and while I immediately fell in love with yoga for the physical benefits-primarily increased strength and flexibility-I didn’t feel much more connected to myself. I went on to practice meditation for a year before I read an article that pointed out you should have a purpose for meditating. I thought about it for a long time. Phrases like “inner peace” and “better understanding of oneself” came to mind. I wasn’t even sure how meditation could do this. I had merely read enough about the benefits to know that these were some of the things that people had mentioned. A loftier goal of mine was to practice communing with my inner self, my intuition you could say, and discern when it was my mind chattering away, ultimately sending me in circles on my spiritual path and when I was being gently nudged by my intuition to reevaluate and change course.
In my search for a better understanding, I came across Dan Millman’s series “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” As I read his books, I began to get a clearer idea of what it meant to be mindful. Millman describes all the random thought forms that come to our mind throughout the day as radio stations. When we practice mindfulness, we are essentially “taming the mind” not to turn off the radio but to instead recognize the stations. As Millman points out, mindfulness entails “recognizing the noise as separate from us ..and recognizing that once we notice what station the radio is playing, we have the power to choose what station we select.”
Upon reading these words, I was reminded of one of the first times I tried meditating. As I started to pay attention to my thoughts, I noticed that it was as if suddenly, someone had turned up the volume. I noticed that the more attention I paid to the chatter, the louder the thoughts became until they slowly dissipated, similar to the sound an old-fashioned radio makes when you turn the knob to change stations.
As the months went by, I experimented more with my inner radio and slowly but surely, I started to first recognize and then eventually change the station. I became aware of the way I felt when sitting in a coffee shop, unconsciously passing judgements about the people around me, the music playing or the taste of my chai latte. As soon as I started to notice these thoughts, I ‘turned the knob’ and began to either think thoughts of gratitude or just take a few deep breaths to recenter myself. I wish I could say all it takes is one time, but the truth is I do this (at times not so successfully) many many times throughout the day. It’s a process, but I am learning to tune in to a different frequency-to the present moment that is- and to become more aware of my thoughts.
When we practice mindfulness, we practice listening. To practice either does not require that you wear fancy white robes, live in a monastery or an ashram in the mountains or even have a special cushion or altar filled with fragrant candles and incense. All it takes is a bit of patience and a willingness to listen..
Listen to yourself the way you would listen to a close friend or family member. Notice what your inner voice is telling you. If you don’t like what it has to say, change the narrative. Just as you would when driving in your car, you have the power to change the station when those annoying commercials come up and try to rob you of your inner peace (unless you’re listening to the free version of Spotify..seriously just get the subscription.)
Listen closely and see what kind of “tunes” are playing in the background. If you don’t like what you hear, turn the dial to a better station. Happy listening.