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Sound and Life

It is 4:12 am. Again, I am awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sudden cacophony of robins and songbirds outside my window. The doves in the neighbour’s coop will no doubt join in momentarily. Then the ducks and geese.

Normally I’d be irritated. 4:12, after all, is not my wake up time. Violet generally gives me at least another hour, give or take. But today I am feeling inspired. Sentimental, even. Reflective.

It is the sound of the birds that has brought me to life, invited me into the day, all around the world. One thread that weaves together my practice of awakening in such diverse contexts, distinctive junctures in my life - sounds that were/are at once idiosyncratic and universal in my experience on this earth.

In Australia, it was the kookaburras; in Bali, the scaly-breasted munias; in Kananaskis, the mountain chickadees.

Sound and song are vital to our lives. From the womb, we take in sound patterns, learning to understand and define the world around us through the cadence and inflections of our mother’s voice, the pulse of her heart, the muffled tones of music and traffic and conversation. It feeds us like an umbilical cord, giving us things we need to grow, to adapt, and to be human.

And listening, in turn, continues to be one of the most important skills we take with us through life.

In listening, we find presence. Listening is a way of paying attention, and arguably the most important. When we listen to another person we are truly showing them we respect their existence, what they have to say, who they are right in front of us. We validate them, a fundamental way of showing love. In listening to the world around us, we are immediately grounded in the place we are in – ten feet from the bonfire with our back to the river – positioned on the earth. We are here and this is what we hear.

I often think about the soundtrack of my life – what would play in the background of a Boyhood-like film about me – what music is definitive of my personality or what songs are connected to important events. But the music of my life, when I think about it, is often the sounds of the street or wildlife or people around me. The way my father’s voice would raise when criticized, the way my mother’s voice softened when she felt helpless with my teenage turmoil. The obnoxious yapping my dogs exhibit every time something moves beyond our fence. These are rhythms that beat within me like a heartbeat, unnoticeable most of the time, but critical to my being.

Listening is an act of meditation, and a way of acknowledging the inimitability of our lives. Today, I challenge you to listen. To take stock of the sounds around you. And to think about how they define who you are.

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