The Best Season of Your Life

Snail on persimmon leaf in fall

If your mind isn’t clouded

by unnecessary things,

this is the best season of your life.

                              –Wumen

Last week I heard a discussion by Bernie Krause who wrote The Great Animal Orchestra. To say that he brings to light how visual this culture is and how much we leave the auditory in the back seat is to prove his point that our metaphors are mostly visual. I search for one that is not.  Maybe he amplifies the auditory. One of the most memorable things in his talk was that he played for us a soundscape of a forest recorded both before and after it was selectively logged. The logging company assured everyone that selective logging would have virtually no impact on the ecosystem. Even though the eye couldn’t see the changes, our ears told us how much the ecosystem had deteriorated after the logging. He said, “A soundscape is worth a thousand pictures.”

I have at the same time been reading a book called Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo. I loved the title and bought it not knowing anything else about it. It has been a wonderful accompaniment to both the Bernie Krause information and teaching the didgeridoo and studying Aboriginal philosophy.

Nepo says, “One of the purposes of listening is to break our self-reference. Listening beyond our own silhouette, each thing we encounter is alive—be it a stone, a dragonfly, a symphony, or a peach.” (p.121) This reminds me of what Jon Young  says about 360 degree listening—that you cannot carry on the same story that may have been repeating itself inside your head when you listen so completely to the world. It takes you out of your own silhouette. The Aboriginals of Australia believe that everything on earth is alive and that we can learn from listening not just to humans but to the rest of the natural world. Teachers abound if only we could stop endlessly listening exclusively to our own stories, take that step out of our minds (clear the clouds) and enter into deep listening.

One of the things that we did at the Didgeridoo Dreaming for Women weekend a few weeks ago at Sea Ranch was to listen until we heard a call and then play to respond to the call. When music comes, not to fill up empty space but is drawn out of the silence, it becomes in essence a dialogue with the world.

Nepo says, “In this way listening becomes a partnership by which we listen and converse with everything. And this conversation with everything—yes through words, but more through presence and attention—becomes the partnership by which we keep everything joined.” (p. 121)

So when our minds are not clouded by unnecessary things, and we can truly listen to what is calling us, we enter into the best season of our lives.

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Day of the Dead, November 2, 2012

photo by Javier Pinzon

It was a magnificent warm evening in SF’s Mission district as we gathered in the Day of the Dead celebration to pay tribute to those who have gone before us, our ancestors . Earlier this year I had met Francisco X. Alarcon and Javier Pinzon at a visiting writers’ program at the Merced Community College in Los Banos, California (set up by Meg Withers). Francisco and I collaborated on calling in the directions, he with beautiful words and me with the sound of the didgeridoo. Everyone seemed to respond so well to the didge and Francisco said, “The ancestors are riding on that sound!” In his enthusiasm he invited me to join him as he called in the directions at the Day of the Dead this year.

After a critical mass of people arrived, we set up in front of a beautiful altar on wheels and amidst Aztec dancers with long feather headdresses. Peggy Ho held the didge and the microphone for me and we proceeded to call in the directions. Each time it was my turn to play, a very loud drummer started pounding on the drum and I couldn’t hear anything that I was playing. I assumed no one else could hear it either but that wasn’t so as the microphone was picking it up. I would have stopped playing altogether in frustration if Javier (I think it was Javier) hadn’t said, after each song, “Beautiful, beautiful.”

The dancing was magnificent. People in the procession dressed in so many different ways to honor the dead. I love this tradition that western culture does not really have, to remember, honor and appreciate those who have gone before us. It is also a way of honoring the cycle of life and death and maybe calming some of that fear of death that is so strong in western culture. It was truly a celebration as the procession wove around through the Mission, adding people as it went. It was one of those magical San Francisco evenings where people got along and the energy was collaborative and celebratory.

I felt privileged to be a part of it.