We live in a constant wash of sounds. Most we're not even aware of. And then there are those we choose – from the alarm that pulls us from sleep, the music we turn on, beeps from our devices, or the perpetual TV playing in the background of most homes every evening.
Frankly, we have to tune it all out just to stay sane.
Over hundreds of thousands of years sounds made by nature were all we heard. Our bodies were our first instruments, our voices, hands and feet. Intoxicated by the beauty of sounds around us and the joy of our own creativity, we stretched animal hair or skins over hollow wood to compose the first composed music.
Now, we rarely make our own music. Someone else creates it. Most of the time we are passive listeners, rarely even singing except in the shower. There's so much else to distract us.
But this summer, almost alchemically, I seem to have taken back the beauty of sound by leaving the noise behind for a few days.
Getting away was more than self-care. It had become a necessity. I couldn’t hear myself think, much less truly listen to anyone else. Or maybe thinking too much was the problem in the first place.
I was wordless in Nature during a weeklong vision quest, surrounded by just the sounds of wind and animal calls. I didn’t even take a book. I was quiet and listened to the sounds outside until the inner commotion calmed and I could finally hear again.
When I returned to my usual noisy world I knew what I wanted to hear and what I didn’t. I stopped turning on the radio every time I got into the car. I started sitting outside most mornings for a few minutes, just to take in the beauty of bird song and breeze around me.
And I chose to listen to music, live. Floating through the summer evening, sitting on the lawn at Tanglewood, I received sound in a way I never before had. I couldn't breathe, much less clap, after the world-renowned 12-voiced choral group Chantecleer’s final chord stopped ringing through the air. The vibration of harmony so perfectly tuned couldn't be called mere singing. It moved through the hall and out onto the lawn more like a gripping wind than music. My sternum absorbed it as much as my ears.
I’m a trained musician. I know all the terms and theory. But now, after those days of quiet, I’m feeling music (and everything, actually) more viscerally. Experience isn't mediated through my critical brain as much. My life has become more than just interesting and beautiful.
Sitting on that same lawn a week later, I heard a Dvorák’s clarinet and oboe tete a tete. I could barely stand the beauty. The subtle variation in timbre of these two instruments sent chills through me. Honestly, it was so amazing! More like being made love to than hearing music. It’s as if my joy receptors have been turned way up.
Sound is one way into the wider world of aliveness, there for you in any moment. The simple fact of having ears invites us to the concert, any time we care to notice. We are always hearing, but it’s the active choice to notice and receive sound that shifts a passive experience into one of profoundly altered aliveness.
When has this happened to you? When has a shift in your outer world opened you to feeling way more?
Sing it out, Sister!
Mary is an intimacy coach, sensuality educator, spiritual counselor, and writer who leads retreats around the globe and privately coaches women and couples. All at the intersection of the sacred and the senses.