Attunement

by David Arredondo

There is a particular type of grin an infant gives that adults literally cannot resist. The grin is contagious – before long, the adult is smiling back and then making funny faces at the child, who smiles even more broadly and gurgles out that particular set of sounds we all recognize as the laughter of a baby. This laughter has such an impact on any remotely conscious adult that even their slightest smile turns into an open laugh, until finally the adult breaks into a full blown set of sing-song sounds, which invariably evokes squeals of joy from the infant watching and listening intently while never moving his eyes from the fascinating creature in front of him.

What is remarkable here is the delight, the universality and uncontrived nature of this simple scene. But something miraculous occurs while we laugh and play with an infant.

Two humans make a connection – they attune with one another – and their nervous systems become locked in a type of dance that is one of the most extraordinary processes in all of nature. The infant’s brain is making thousands of new connections to the billions of connections it will need for later life. He is learning to read emotions from the facial expressions of others; to distinguish sounds that eventually will become words; that the world is not static but responsive; that the world cares about him, and that he can be an active agent in getting the world to respond to him. He is learning to speak, to hear, to understand, to predict, to anticipate, to realize that he is a source of delight, and that he can elicit delight in those with whom he is attuned.

Attunement is one of the great mysteries, for scientists and mystics alike, behind the extraordinary phenomena of human life. In it our boundaries dissolve; we leave our individual egos aside; the world goes away and we are left dancing freely in a state of grace that is as close to beatific as many of us will ever get.

Those who have fallen in love know this state well. The rest of the world drops away and in the lovers’ embrace, nothing else exists but the two that have now become one, formed in a dance of Attunement.

I was once fortunate enough to have great seats for an opera written by Phillip Glass, just above where the strings were placed. Toward the climax of the opera, as the music began to swell in intensity, volume, complexity and passion I watched transfixed as the musicians focused intently on their sheet music and concentrated all of their being into playing this extraordinarily difficult and powerful movement in harmony and absolute precision with one another. The music became more passionate as it exploded after a long slow climb of crescendo into a racing fury of notes demanding absolute skill, confidence, concentration, and artistry.

And then I saw an example of Attunement I will never forget: Two cellists, sitting erect in their starched, stiff black tuxedos, absorbed fixedly in their sheet music as they flawlessly executed what must have been some of the most demanding technical material of the season. Their eyes were locked onto their scores and their hands moved furiously until – without warning, cue or pause – at the exact same instant, they both looked up and made eye contact with one another. With the slightest of smiles, their most subtle of expressions said to one another:

“This is why we are here. This is why we do what we do. This is what we are and there is no greater thing to be than a cellist in this place, at this moment. We are here together and each of us knows, without a word or even a conscious thought, that in this endeavor we have become as one with each other, the music, its composer, our craft and our art.”

Their glance lasted a fraction of a second, but that was all it took. In their shared understanding they dissolved into a unified being greater than their respective selves. They were attuned and through that Attunement, they brought the work of the composer and the souls of the audience together to soar with them into a space beyond the physical confines of the symphony hall.

Look around you. You will see Attunement, too, every day.