The Symphony of Life

“It’s the rhythm of the heart that sets the beat for the entire system. . . . [Coherence] is the harmonious cooperation, and order among the subsystems of a larger system that allows for the emergence of more complex functions.” – Rollin McCraty in Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants, 99

“The failing plots were not the harvested ones, but the unharvested controls. The sweetgrass that had not been picked or disturbed in any way was choked with dead stems while the harvested plots were thriving. . . . Picking sweetgrass seemed to actually stimulate growth.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 162

The drum and the rattles, the heart and the breath

The drum and the rattles, the heart and the breath

We marched to the beat of a drum. The drum led, and other instruments followed. A cowbell twanged to the beat, and some rhythm sticks clicked a sweet sound. I shook seed pods that rattled in the wind. The drum kept the time, and our movements followed. Our feet pounded the earth, keeping the beat of the drum, and our hips swayed to the rattles, the whistles, the bells. Each of our bodies, each of our sounds, added something to the rhythm of the song. Moving together, we formed a coherent whole, unified by the steady, tapping beat.

We had begun the exercise with a meditation. Touching my wrist, I tapped the rhythm of my pulse. I sank into the heartbeat, the daily rhythm that, with its infinite variety, provides the ground for all that I do in life. As a group, we began walking to the beat of our hearts: thunk-thunk, feet upon the floor. We circled and listened, walked and turned inwards. Slowly we began to encounter the world of our breath. Slower than the heart, and deeper, my breath expanded outward, then drew in. My feet marched forwards still. One by one the rhythms layered: the steady bass note of my pounding heart, the airy contractions of my breath, and the subtle oscillations of my lymph, my spinal fluid, rhythms that I cannot hear.

My body too formed a rhythm. The cycles of breath and blood formed a coherence, a pulse, the beat of life. Within my body I began to hear a symphony, many different instruments all playing the same melody, all working at the same beat.

We moved into the sun, walked upon the grass, encircled the garden. We took instruments, holding within the sound of our hearts as, without, we attuned to the beating of a marching drum. Birds twittered. The wind rushed. The creek flowed. The pulses of the earth–her airy sighs and running rivers–entered our melody, enriched our song. Each of these too made a rhythm, formed a coherence with the larger whole. In a morning of marching, of pounding hearts, flowing breath, and a beating drum, I could just hear it–the whole flowing symphony of life, an endless song sung by clouds and birds, rivers and slow-moving stones.

What I heard, as I moved my feet, shook my rattle, and listened within for the sound of my own beating heart, is that this is a song in which we humans play a part. In tending to our patches of sweetgrass, we sing a few treble notes. In strewing the seeds of our carrots, we dance to the rhythms of the cosmos. As with our bodies, as with the beat of pounding drum, we can choose move in coherence with the rhythms of the earth, of the sea, of the stars. We can sing the song of our bodies, and choose to listen to the beating heart of the earth. We can take part in the symphony of life; indeed, to do so is our very birthright.

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