What Is Your True Song?

Swainson's Thrush Roland JordahlThe bird pictured at right  (credit Roland Jordahl) is a Swainson’s Thrush, a regular summer visitor here on Bowen Island. Like most birds, it has both “songs” and “calls”. The songs tend to be more melodious and variable — each bird’s is slightly different. The calls are simpler, standard and more abrupt. Here is the song, followed by the call, of the Swainson’s Thrush.

I imagine that songs and calls convey entirely different types of messages. Songs, I think, are a bird’s way of expressing herself — what she feels and who she is. Calls, I would think, are urgent messages to the flock or potential flockmates, such as “come” or “danger”.

Some smarter birds, like the corvids and parrots, are excellent mimics. They have such a vast repertoire of others’ songs and calls (those of other birds, people, animals and even inanimate sounds) that we rarely hear their own song. Yet according to ornithologist Bernd Heinrich, ravens, when alone, will sing themselves to sleep. Only in private moments, perhaps, do they sing their own true song.

There is a theory espoused by some scientists that wild creatures spend the bulk of their lives in “Now Time”, a kind of recursive time-out-of-time that stretches out seemingly forever — what we feel sometimes when we say that “time has stopped”. In these moments out of time, the theory says, these creatures are utterly present, totally a part of the oneness of all-life-on-Earth.

In moments of stress, they quickly snap out of Now Time into Clock Time, when instincts of fight-or-flight kick in, adrenaline pumps, the mind and heart race to keep up with the sudden break-neck pace of time, and all their energies are focused on identifying and responding appropriately to the source of stress.

I imagine that birds’ calls are mostly alerts to shift out of Now Time into Clock Time. Then, once the cause of the stress is gone, the creature quickly re-enters Now Time, with soft clucks of comfort that signal “all clear”, when the creature is free to sing her song once again.

I wonder if the “smarter” creatures on our planet have fewer songs and more calls by virtue of their (our) greater awareness of all the potential dangers and their (our) greater population density (a result of evolutionary success and adaptive skill) — to the point we end up so chronically stressed we never have the opportunity to shift into Now Time. Perhaps we lose the capacity to do so entirely, from lack of opportunity and practice.

This would seem to be the message of many New Age pundits — that we need to find ways and practices to rediscover this presence, slow our lives down to relearn the capacity to enter into Now Time, the seemingly eternal present.

Artists, I think, have this sense, this capacity, more than most others. They seem able to immerse themselves, to open themselves to what is present, to set aside temporarily the pervasive stresses of our civilization and really see, feel, and re-present, what really is. I wonder whether our human languages, designed as they are for the conveyance of commands, instruction and information, are really just elaborate sets of calls, and whether it is in poetry, story, art and music that our human songs find their voice.

As I focus my new life more on creative activities — writing music, stories and poetry — perhaps I am seeking ways to create, or discover, my own song. What nuances and messages would be captured in this song, what expressions of nobody-but-myself? My guess is that it would have notes of joy and others of melancholy, sounds that convey a passion to learn and to play and to imagine what is possible, to reflect and express and explore, and to love. Could a song be subtle enough to convey all this, and even accentuate those passions that I believe I am more (or less) gifted at, and which are “on purpose” for me rather than just for fun?

Perhaps this is what all our conversations, the endless cacophony of words we speak and write and think, are all directed at — expressing, both for our own evolving sense of self and for the discovery of others, who we really are.

What, do you imagine, is your true song?

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5 Responses to What Is Your True Song?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What Is Your True Song? « how to save the world -- Topsy.com

  2. Andrew Hill says:

    Hi Dave,

    I loved this post and it’s serendipitous nature for me. I recently saw a presentation on TED from Jill Bolte Taylor (http://blog.ted.com/2008/03/jill_bolte_tayl.php). She is a neuroanatomist who was in a great position to observe a stroke that incapacitated her left brain. She relates how she became part of ‘Now Time’.

    I have also been searching for more meaning in life and am preparing to start practicing the ‘heart-of-the-rose’ technique (as related in The Monk who sold his Ferrari) to help tap into Now Time. So thank you for providing this reinforcing message of support.


  3. del says:

    Hi, Dave – In addition to Andrew’s link, do you have any other resources on learning about Now Time? Just curious how you learned about it.

  4. chaitanya says:

    Mindfulness = Being attentive to the present moment experience.

    Mindfulness of Breathing : great practice to train the mind to be in the present.

  5. vesica says:

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 25-year, cross-cultural study of happiness, *Flow*, identifies factors that override the perception of passing time & foster the union of self with experience, when we are being what we are doing. Inherent in flow is focus on a goal of one’s own choice, with self-challenge that increases in proportion to developing skill level.

    Peace on your journey,

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