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I sing in a peace choir. We practice in a church and the whole thing takes me back to the days of my childhood when I would go to church on Sundays, and people would greet each other at the entrance hall, some would have conversation some would not, but all would slide into the benches for an hour of spiritual contemplation and uplift. I don’t remember the sermons, not a one of them, but I do remember the singing of hymns. The warm vibration of my mother’s voice next to me traveling through my body, joining with all the voices around me. I don’t remember the words of the hymns but I do remember the power of the sound that traveled through the church as the voices attuned in tone and rhythm, supported by the organ, and formed a moment of mysterious connection.
This last Valentine’s day four choirs gathered in an old church in Portland, complete with wooden benches, stained glass windows, an organ and that unmistakable rich polished wood smell of an old, well maintained building, solid in stone. We sang, we showed off our artistic musical prowess, sharing our messages of peace, care for the earth, and struggle for freedom. We avoided religious, church themes (we are secular choirs), standing there on the pulpit platform of the old church. We sang, blending, harmonizing, listening to the voices next to us for tone and rhythm. For a few hours we let ourselves blend with others. It is a most intimate thing a group of people can do. To rise above opinion, political views, domination and subjugation, to rise above the dynamics of relationship in a sharing of sound.
Sound is with most of us all the time. We are delighted by the sound of a loved one’s voice, we are bothered by the insistent traffic rhythm outside our building, we lose ourselves in the rushing of the ocean waves, the tinnitus in our ears. Sound is our key to feeling connected or feeling distant and alone. With modern technology we can hear sound over great distances. Sound travels when we can’t. The sound of our voices are a tonal gift that keeps on giving, that connects us on a mysterious wavelength. It wasn’t the words of our song, it wasn’t the church, it wasn’t the director waving his arms around, it was over a hundred bodies standing together letting out sound in harmony, attuned, listening to each other. The sound traveled in the great arches of that old church bouncing back to us in a warm, rounded timbre, an echo of our longing, a gift of love to ourselves as humans. A gift that reverberates in us for awhile. It was truly a day of romance.
Since last Sunday I have been listening more to the voices, the sounds around me, and letting myself have that intimacy of sharing tonality, the blending of mysterious waves that connect me with others. The spirit of Valentine's lives on.
For most of us, survival means following the rules. Rules set forth by people who came before us, who live around us, and a few rules thrown in by ourself as we develop our lives. As children when everything is new, and unknown, we roll into a delicious adventure of discovery which determines our development into adulthood. The adventure is delicious when the child feels safe, cared for and “knows” or experiences, that no harm comes to him or her. Tastes of new foods, while being able to come back to the trusted milk supply, sensual experiences of the skin, caused by touch, and temperature, as long as the child can come back to the safety of adequate warmth or coolness, and loving arms. As the child explores and finds out what hurts and what protects, the child learns rules of living. This process of learning turns more and more into an adopting of a set of rules to live by as adults, to be successful in survival and achieving happiness.
One of the rules of grown-up living is that you need a vacation on a regular basis. The yearly trek to some unknown - or known but different - place from our daily environment, is the continuation of exploration, it satisfies the curious factor in our beings.
Why do we want to change the rules we have adopted? Maybe it’s because the rules aren’t working for us anymore, they don’t let us survive in a way that makes us happy. If you were told as a young person, that your happiness depends on education, a good job, a loving partner, a family, you have a long road ahead of you to achieve all the parts of a good life by following all the rules involved in achieving this. The interesting thing is that after a while of having the “good” life, the restless self looks around driven by curiosity, to find something new, different, that gives new meaning to life. Travel, a new relationship, a new set of clothes, a new hobby, a new place to live, it’s endless what we may end up doing to change the rules we had adopted. For most of us the curiosity only goes so far, we only reach for the unknown as long as we can come back to the safety of survival, the caring of a relationship, the acceptance of the tribe we live with.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Salopek, http://www.outofedenwalk.com is taking a 7-year walk following the ancient paths of human migration and writing about people and their circumstances. What he is discovering so far (he is in his third year of walking) is that humans all want the same thing, a place of safety, a family or tribe to gather and enjoy a meal with. Survival is the foremost driving force of human actions, the rule so to speak for living. The question if there is more to life than survival, if there is a hidden rule that life on earth has a meaning, a purpose beyond survival, is the question that drives people like Salopek, me, and maybe you the reader, to travel, explore, to change your clothing style, your home decor, the club you belong to, your religion.
By not following the rules you have been living by, you can deepen the meaning of your life, or at least inject new fascination with living. So have a cup of warm water with lemon instead of your daily morning coffee, or vice versa and see if life takes on new meaning.