From time to time, I could be idly musing, even concentrating on something, writing, listening to music, lying awake in bed or simply staring out my window and I am transported into another dimension, another life, a waking dream, a parallel life. I can indulge it, be distracted by it, be transported into wild fantasies, imagining a small but fateful alteration in a choice made long ago. I can spin it all into a shining and novel journey, the golden thread of an entirely different life leading to an entirely different now. A small course correction on a long journey, after all, can take you far from where you thought you were going.
We have the capacity to invent such possibilities, spin dramas and tell stories to ourselves that may appear to have no immediate benefit whatsoever. Then again, what about scenarios that feed back into this life in a beneficial way? How do they do that and what are the benefits? How many alternate lives have you imagined? What’s different about them from the one you’re living now? Who would you be if you had made one of those choices? Are there recurrent themes? That’s the appeal, isn’t it? Wondering about all the permutations of taking a different path from the one you find yourself on now? Maybe they come with more appealing outcomes. I mean, really, we all do contain multitudes, do we not?
I remember the cover from one of my all-time favorite albums, In a Wild Sanctuary, by Beaver and Krause, circa 1970. It’s a classic instrumental, and seminal for the genre. It included something I’d never heard anyone else do–and few have done since (except perhaps by simulation), other than Bernie Krause himself. He became a doctor of bioacoustics and spent his life recording sounds of the natural world, a forest, an ocean shore, wildlife, insect life, pond life, and turned it into music.
The original album cover was MC Escher’s print, Three Worlds. The point, I think, is that we don’t just live in one world. We are living in multiple worlds simultaneously, a timeless cloud of energies, perhaps even living multiple lives in parallel–or at least I am–and from time to time journeying into them, encountering myself in them and deriving a multiplicity of benefits from doing so.
Music is the vehicle of choice for me. Something about hearing an attenuated note dancing all the way to the edge of space, hearing a bass line erupting from beneath the ground, creativity utterly destroying predictability, screaming high notes ripping emotion from my chest, harmonies suggesting poignant intimacies even mimicking biology, lyrics awakening forgotten longings, buried images, synthesizing cultures and histories, awakening body memory, evoking lives un-lived, sending me far into the past or future. They become more compelling than anything else I could do.
As I catalog some of those lives, even trying to say what they are out loud or at least to myself, a theme emerges. I don’t fantasize about power. I am neither the occupant of the C-suite nor am I the attendant. I seek neither notoriety, adulation nor wealth. I am not a scientist or an academic. What I am is an artist…in almost all cases, a driven creative devoted to the art, whether it be music itself, poetics, monastic life, physical arts, ancient wisdom or the hieroglyphics of the future. An intrepid pilgrim journeying into the essential nature of things. Those other lives–are they from the past or future?–hover about me, weaving themselves into my consciousness intermittently, reminding me of the true dimensions and the nonlinear nature of reality. At times they help me realize the choices I’ve made in this life are made of the same stuff as the roads not taken. In this life, I become their channel. They interrupt me from time to time; they inspire me, overtake me.
Why is music relevant here? Because, as David Abram’s elucidated so well in The Spell of the Sensuous, the primal origins of language reside in the sounds of the natural world itself. The original words, the alphabet itself, might have been mimicry, imitating the sounds of the more than human world. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say all music derives from the same thing. All instruments were once organic. So the evolution of language and music are rooted directly in the original sources of sound. And parenthetically, those sounds are disappearing . Most of what we hear now is anthropogenic sound, not unlike urban lights blotting out the stars. So music can take us down and in, way down into the thrumming, screeching, buzzing, breath-taking, expiring, creeping cackles and calls of the underworld, into the earth itself and the earth within.
Where was I going with all that? Oh yeah. I was going into the choices we make about which life we shall live. The rest of the chorus we bring along may be obscured, but my fantasies of alternate lives remain as repositories and reflections of whatever wisdom I may have gained and as consultants to this life, feeding that wisdom back to me. They are never fully silenced. Nothing we do can negate our imagination nor diminish the aspirations flowing between this material reality and any alternate scenario, nor the internal communication arising as a momentary pre-occupation with a more spacious possibility.
And anyway, all lives, if we are fortunate, lead to the same end, do they not? At least in the best of worlds they would. Every one of us would become the sum of that assemblage, deriving something of value from each, embodying a clear vision, unwavering passion and a pristine integrity of purpose. We would each have found our true voice and learned to act and speak as a channel for all the accumulated wisdom of multiple lives, past and future, accompanying and feeding us in pursuit of our unique version of being exactly what we are and nothing else. We would all enter tantric mind, the vast view of unlimited and unrestrained compassion and ever-flowing mercy, soaring and drifting like a condor, adapting, adjusting course with minimal effort on the shifting updrafts, surveying the landscape below, resting in the nature of mind, in the cracks between the lives we live and lives un-lived.
Our other possible lives are songs we are still composing, dances of memory recalling our primal nature. We can sing them to ourselves as we add chapters to this unfolding mystery, even as the great silence of our own doing descends upon this world. We can access our own dreams, ever pregnant and ever in labor, energies across time, across generations, a time-release of wisdom fueling this life, gently inching forward toward ultimate knowing.