“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their song instead.
Take Daisy, for example. Her song, which had been somewhere in the back of her head for most of her life, had a reassuring, marching sort of beat, and words that were about protecting the weak, and it had a chorus that began “Evildoers beware!” and was thus much too silly ever to be sung out loud. She would hum it to herself sometimes though, in the shower, during the soapy bits.
And that is, more or less, everything you need to know about Daisy. The rest is details.”
― Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Do You Remember Your Song?
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. Then the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud.
Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her.
Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing.
At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.
Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life. In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child.
If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.
When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.
You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.
When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn’t. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you’ll find your way home.
Excerpted from Alan Cohen’s book Wisdom of the Heart.
Different versions of the following story can be found, as retold by various authors*:
In a certain African tribe, children are born with a song, the song of his or her life.
The unborn baby’s mother leaves her village to sit in silence alone. It is in that stillness and meditation where she will hear the song of her unborn child.
Upon returning to her village, she teaches the child’s song to the baby’s father. They then teach the song to their tribe, and together, with midwives and elder men and women and family, they sing his or her song until the child is born.
As the years pass, during every important transition of the child’s life, the tribe sings him or her their own unique song. When the child learns to walk the tribe will gather to sing his song. When she is hurt they will comfort her with her song. As he enters adulthood, they will celebrate singing his song. When she marries, they encircle the couple and sing their songs. Even when the person hurts another member of the tribe, they will form a circle around him or her and sing the song to remind the person of his or her identity as family.
And, of course, at the moment of death, villagers come together and sing the song, gifted before birth, to their precious one.
We can learn from the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom of the heart.
-Wisdom of the Heart-
There is an implied understanding to this story. It is that each person is born with a song in them. An essence that they are meant to express. In fact, we admire those who fulfill that purpose: artists, scientists, performers, activists… Yet how many of us dare to open our lungs wide and bellow our song out to the world?Instead, what many of us tend to do is take on beliefs imposed upon us by somebody else: parents, teachers, peers, society, media. That story may sound something like: “I owe my family to keep working at this job.” “I am not good enough to be an artist.” “People will judge me if I stand out.” “Something terrible is going to happen if I let people see who I am.”So we go on telling and retelling our story. This is the story we learned at an age when we did not have the wits to know any better. We have told it so many times that we take it for granted. Yet that does not make it true. A story is made of recycled thoughts that are not even our own.Our true essence lies in the song we came here to sing. What would happen if one day you stopped telling your story and began singing your song?
Wayne Dyer often speaks on his television appearances of reading Leo Tolstoy’s short story The Death of Ivan Ilytch. When Ilytch got to the end of his life and he was lying on his deathbed, he looked up at his wife, who was holding his hand. He had been angry at this woman his entire life, and his last words to her were, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” When Dyer read that story at age 19, he wrote a note to himself: “Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you.”Your song is unique to you; may you find the courage and the clarity to sing your song. Don’t die with your music still in you.
*This African myth seems to be apocryphal. The version I used here was told by Alan Cohen, but it is also quoted in Connie & Alan Higley’s Reference Guide for Essential Oils, and incorrectly attributed to N’Shama Radha Sterling. I contacted N’Shama, and she denied having originated it, nor did she know where it came from. I kept it, nonetheless, because it illustrates the point beautifully.
- Wisdom of the Heart, by Alan Cohen. Hay House (2002).
- Reference Guide for Essential Oils, by Connie & Alan Higley. Abundant Health (2001).
What is this mind before which
all this passes?
the cars endlessly rolling,
the breeze, the people standing
at the bus stop waiting
The way it wants to reach out,
to merge with nature
not the asphalt and the metal
but the beauty of the weaving branches
the blueness of the sky
the flight of the seagull
the striation of cirrus clouds
like an unknowable alphabet in the sky.
In time I am waiting
amidst the turbulent changes
I am waiting
Before the future I am creating
I am waiting
In the now
there is the boarding of the bus,
the placing of the $2.35 in the coinbox,
the finding of a seat,
sunrays reflecting from
the aluminum backs of the seats,
the air conditioning cooling the air,
the squeaking brakes of the bus.
the clicking heels of the tall woman
stepping to the back of the bus.
to the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco
This is the now
There is the past.
Here comes the future.
Yet when I look through God’s eyes,
I laugh after I cry from the shock of the transition.
I laugh because my mind
despite all these perceptions,
these cascading thoughts
has no existence, no time, no separateness.
This is the vastness.
This is the sea of darkness.
This is the kiss of light.
This is the immersion into the mist.
This is the flight of matter.
This is the dissolution of soul.
This is the remembrance.
This is the eternal wheel,
the wheel within the wheel
This is my home.
This is my exile
from the human world.
This is the never-ending journey.
© Copyright by Allen Cohen. All rights reserved.
The spell of the Sensuos – David Abram
These meandering trails, or Dreaming tracks, are auditory as well as visible and tactile phenomena, for the Ancestors “ere singing the names of things and places into the land as they wandered through it. Indeed, each ancestral track is a sort of musical score that winds across the continent, the score of a vast, epic song whose verses tell of the Ancestor’s many adventures, of how the various sites along her path came into being (and hence, indirectly, of what food plants, \yater sources, or sheltering rocks may be found at those sites). The distance between two significant sites along the Ancestor’s track can be measured, or spoken of, as a stretch of song, for the song unfolds in an unbroken chain of couplets across the land, one couplet “for each pair of the Ancestor’s footfalls.”60 The song is thus a kind of auditory route map through the country; in order to make her way through the land, an Aboriginal person has only to chant the local stanzas of the appropriate Dreaming, the appropriate Ances tor’s song.
The Australian continent is crisscrossed by thousands of such meandering “songlines” or “ways through,” most of them passing through multiple tribal areas.A given song may thus sing its way through twenty or more different languages before reaching the place where the Ancestor went “back in.” Yet while the language changes, the basic melody of the song remains the same, so that a person of the Barking Lizard Clan will readily recognize distant stretches of the Barking Lizard songline when he hears them, even though those stanzas are being sung in a language entirely alien to his ears… .61 Knowledge of distant parts of one’s song cycle-al beit in one’s own language-apparently enables a person to vividly experience certain stretches of the land even before he or she has ac tually visited those places.Rehearsing a long part of a song cycle to gether while sitting around a campfire at night, Aboriginal persons apparently feel themselves journeying across the land in their collec tive imagination-much as the Apache man “talking names” to him self is “riding in his mind.”62
Every Ancestor, while chanting his or her way across the land during the Dreamtime, also deposited a trail of “spirit children”
along the line of his footsteps. These “life cells” are children not yet born: they lie in a kind of potential state within the ground, waiting. \Vhile sexual intercourse between a woman and a man is thought, by traditional Aboriginal persons, to prepare the woman for conception, the actual conception is assumed to occur much later, when the al ready pregnant woman is out on her daily round gathering roots and edible grubs, and she happens to step upon (or even near) a song couplet. The “spirit child” lying beneath the ground at that spot slips up into her at that moment, “works its way into her womb, and impregnates the foetus with song. “63 Wherever the woman finds her self when she feels the quickening-the first kick within her womb she knows that a spirit child has just leapt into her body from the earth. And so she notes the precise place in the land where the quick ening occurred, and reports this to the tribal elders. The elders then examine the land at that spot, discerning which Ancestor’s songline was involved, and precisely which stanzas of that Ancestor’s song will belong to the child.
In this manner every Aboriginal person, at birth, inherits a par ticular stretch of song as his private property, a stretch of song that is, as it were, his title to a stretch of land, to his conception site. This land is that part of the Dreaming from whence his life comes-it is that place on the earth where he most belongs, and his essence, his deepest self, is indistinguishable from that terrain:
dingo [wild dog] dreaming place Paddy Anatari’s country.
Old man squints between wrinkles
drawn into a smile in the broad, red land. Played a child; walked every foot in its sand.
“You see that rock over there?”
(The top had been rubbed smooth and
fiat soft, as zf it were cut by a diamond, but
its been done by another rock cupped in hundreds of hands:
increase site for birthing of dingo PUP) and
Paddy Anatari strokes the rock again,
and again . He says: “You see this rock?
This rock’s me!”64
The sung verses that are the tribesman’s birthright, of which he is now the primary caretaker, provide him also with a kind of pass port to the other lands or territories that are crossed by the same Dreaming. He is recognized as an offspring of that Ancestor whose songline he owns a part of, a descendant of the Dreamtime Being whose sacred life and power still dwells within the shapes of those lands. If, for instance, the Ancestor who walked there was vVallaby Man, then the person is said to have a \Vallaby Dreaming, to be a member of the Wallaby Clan (a wallaby is a marsupial animal re sembling a small kangaroo). He has allegiances to all other \Vallaby Dreaming persons, both within and outside of his own tribe. He has responsibilities to the wallabies themselves; he cannot hunt them for food, since they are his brothers and sisters. And he has a profound responsibility to the land along the \Vallaby Dreaming track, or songline, a responsibility to keep the land as it should be-the way it was when it wasfirst sung into existence.
According to tradition, he might do this by periodically going “Walkabout,” by making a ritual journey along the Dreaming track, walking in the footsteps of the clan Ancestor. As he walks, he chants the Ancestor’s verses, without altering a single word, singing the land into view-and in this manner “recreates the Creation. “65
Finally, just as each Dreamtime Ancestor metamorphosed him or-herself, at the end of her journey, into some aspect or feature within the contemporary landscape, so also each Aboriginal person intends, at the end of his or her life, to sing himself back into the land. A traditional Pitjantjatjara or Pintupi man will return to his conception site-to his particular stretch of the Ancestral songline to die, so that his vitality will be able to rejoin the dreaming earth at that place.66