Sounds heard through an Imaginal Doorway
Ways to Deepen a Song
Once a little boy went for a walk in the woods.
As he walked deep into the shadows and cool outlines of trees, he was interupted....the ground trembled then shook. It shook so hard, he nearly fell over. Then, a howl that sounded like the wind splintered a nearby gatepost.
Cautiously, he drew near to the source of the sound....there on the ground was a enormous Giant. Tears spilled from the Giant's eyes as he hammered the forest floor with his fists so hard the ground shook. All the animals had fled and the trees around looked like snapped matches.
The Boy stood in the undergrowth for a short while, watching. Finally he turned and left.
Back in the town, everyone was talking about the earthquake. Some structural damage had occured. A week later, the Boy went back, and the same thing happened. Ground shaking, tears flowing. Giant pounding the ground in a rage of fist and fury, like a massive toddler, but a hairy dangerous one with boots and a jerkin on. The boy watched the giant from the undergrowth and saw something that made him smile.
The third time, a week later, in the same place, the Boy appeared from the undergrowth in full view of the Giant. He smiled.
"Hey there" he said "Bend down. I've got a secret to tell you"
He whispered something in the Giant's ear.
A huge beam grew across the Giant's face as the Boy's words made their way from his ear into his brain and from there into his understanding.
They had a great afternoon together. After they parted, the boy walked off cheerfully, whistling as he went. He knew that now there would be no more earthquakes. He thought some more about the secret he had told the Giant.
"Silly Giant" he said to himself as he came closer to the town. "How could he not know? If you want learn how to whistle it's easy. All you have to do is put your lips together and blow..."
So...welcome to the Imaginal Ecologist, my e-newsletter.
The secret that the Little Boy knows in the story is how to whistle.
If you've ever watched a child try to learn to whistle, you'll know that the secret of whistling is really not about technique. It's more to do with a strange combination of persistance and cheerfulness, the kind that small boys sometimes have when they are allowed to wander around in woods.
Teaching, as those of us who went to school know, can easily be the death of learning. Boys are, by definition not experts. So, in a good place to teach, as they are far better able to teach something they don't quite know or half know or want to know. One of the best known methods for how to learn something is to explain what you know to a child, or teach it to someone else.
So, in a simple cheerful way, it’s good to remember that learning to sing is easy. You simply have to elongate the vowel sounds as you sing out and make them resonate through your head bones, your ribcage or your gut.
Song connects people to soul and so to the soul of nature, the Anima Mundi. Stephen Buhner writes in “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm” that song and music “opens up sensory gating channels” and so allows more information to pass into oneself than before. In this way song acts as a gateway into a deeper conversation with nature. It activates the felt sense, which allows a deeper rappport with nature. Songs, and the way they form within us, are little pieces of the wild. They grow on us.
This aesthetic dimension to the experience of nature can seem divorced from the political concerns about climate change. It’s not though, it’s central. As Hillman writes in his essay “Orpheus” :
“…the environmental movement must find the Orphic mode of poiesis to enchant the human ears to hear the singing of the world, ears that have become stone deaf, and human actions that have become boringly wooden with ecological rationality”
Orpheus was the master singer, able to enchant the rocks and animals, even move the Dead. He made even the Furies weep, which they never forgave him for. His music reflected life, both the experience of a little human life and the way a song opens us into a cosmology. Actually, all song has a cosmology hidden in it, even now. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in his wonderful memoir Acid For the Children writes: “All music has magic in it ya know, even shitty pop music.” Perhaps it’s that that stops so many of us from singing, in case the magic escapes and we have to live up to it.
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Tolkein, a master cosmologist, placed song at the heart of his cosmology myth, the Ainulindale. In the begining, he wrote, was the One, known as Eru, or Illuvator. From the void he brought forth song, and sang into beings Powers called the Valar, who would continue the singing, singing the world into being, that would be home to plants, rocks, animals as well as humans.. (Check out Evan Palmers wonderful illustrated version here)
The myth suggests that, like the Boy knows, singing is easy, because everything is a kind of song. Except of course it’s equally easy to end end up feeling not like the Little Boy as he whistles away but sometimes feeling like the Giant, who knows he Just Can't Do It.
Because, even though whistlting is easy, so is being blocked. Maintaining the cheerful attitude of a boy wandering through the woods isn’t always possible.
In the Ainudinale, Tolkein weaves a myth of a world made from song. However, he also gives an account of how come in the midst of this song of beauty there is such suffering, pain, sadism, dominion and what he would call evil.
For Tolkein, all this actually stems from the attempt to be creative - or rather to be original. The most mighty of the Powers, Melkor, wishes to create his own world. He wanders into the void, looking for the imperishable flame that is the secret of life (ironically it is with him all the time, and not hidden). His loneliness turns to despair, and to a dark desire to capture and rule all the beauty that he has felt. His song becomes dark, bitter, ugly, dischordant, poisoned, stormlike, threatening, whining, miserable, treacherous and many things beside.
Yet the mystery of this ugly shadow world ends up deepening the song. And that's what's hard about singing - it opens up and reveals the heart, and shows us a mirror. Mirrors are dangerous things. We might want the mirror to only show us in our best light - but we run the risk of becoming rather too thin as our image gets reflected around. And we are surrounded by more mirrors now than at any time in human history. The moment of opening up can be moments of growth but could also of a kind of soul possession.
Singing, and indeed all creative processes involve opening up. This opening up also let's something in, which may be how come creative processes work best when they involve a simple sharing as it’s end point. Singers must open up twice, once to let the song in, and the second time to let the response to their singing of it in. The danger lies in what enters in when this opening is made. If the song is being possessed rather than shared than damage can be done to the soul, in the moment the amplification of it’s desires recieves validation. Perhaps that’s how come we are fascinated with the lives of rock stars - they have entered the perilous realm, and we want to see if it swallows them up or they emerge with treasures in great store.
The true vulnerable moment, is not the singing, but when the song ends, and perhaps more so 15 minutes later, when the song has faded, and an emptying out has taken place. It’s this that makes singing hard, not so much the moment of singing but the relinquishing of the song later. If singing belongs in some part to the Child, let's not forget that although the Child loves to sing, but finds it hard to share....and that Giant’s possessed by child-like emotions can do real damage.
Songs are promiscuous - they want to be shared - but what is shared? Flea writes about listening to the band the Germs at the age of 17, and discovering a freedom of simplicity
It became clear that virtuosity and musical sophistication were no longer essential to me and could even be an impediment to musical expression! This realisation did not diminish my love for the most complex music, but made my world a less limited place blowing to smithereens the walls of judgment that surrounded my art. I was a freed man. All that mattered was integrity of motivation, the ability to express your own emotion with whatever vehicle was available to you…
…Bob Marley said it did not even matter what kind of music you played, or even the quality of it. All that mattered was complete comittment in the moment of chanelling it.
In the chaotic hardcore punk simplicity of the Germs, Flea heard the sound of the Giant whistling. Complete comitment in the moment of chanelling it. The moment Flea describes is what Jung called a Primordial Image, “a deeply graven river bed in the psyche, in which the waters of life, instead of flowing as before in a shallow stream, suddenly swell into a mighty river”
Jung wrote of this
The moment when this mythological sitution appears is always characterised by a peculiar emotional intensity. It is as though chords were struck in us whose existence we have never suspected were unlosed (CG Jung: Relation of Psychology to Poetry: 1970: 325)
Maybe that’s what makes singing hard. It’s that it’s easy to fall into a primordial image. It’s only a song. Your heartbreak, your animal desire, your blues, your raw power, only a song. Yet a simple song is an Angel. Angel means messenger - songs bring messages. I discovered when I started singing with DLC one day. That band always sought out messages in the moment of the singing, not repeating them, but looking for the wings and guiding light that comes from just letting it happend. When we seek out that moment of comitment in the moment of chanelling it, it’s quite possible to discover that although Angels may simply be messengers, all angels are terrifying to see…after all what is harder than hearing the truth? No wonder the fact that it’s easy to sing also makes it hard to actually sing sometimes.
(Territory by Toby Chown)
all the best
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