There are times in life when everything seems to come together in perfect harmony. But there are often times when everything seems to be a mess – Nothing feels quite right, bad luck seems to follow you everywhere, and the background music of your life is an insistent cacophony of grating dissonance that announces, very clearly, “Your life isn’t working.” We’ve all been there, but have you ever wondered how you got there and why?
I recently learned about a tribe in eastern Africa where, when a woman decides she’s ready to become a mother, she leaves the daily bustle of the village and finds a quiet place under a tree. While there, she quiets her mind and and listens, patiently, until she can hear the song of a child that wants to be born. Once she hears and memorizes the song, she goes back to the man who will father the child and teaches the song to him. Before they make love with intentions to conceive the child, they spend some time singing the song together as an invitation to join their family. When the mother is pregnant, she teaches the child’s song to the members of the village. The midwives sing the song to the newborn when she arrives and, as she grows, the villagers sing the song to her whenever she is afraid, makes mistakes, falls or gets hurt. Her song becomes an integral part of all rights of passage until, eventually, when she marries, both her song and her husband’s are sung as part of their wedding ceremony. Finally, when this child reaches the end of her life and is waiting to die, all of the villagers sing her song for the last time, acknowledging the essence of who she is and saying goodbye.
I’m so incredibly moved by the significance of this tradition. Whenever a child in that village loses her way, emotionally or spiritually, her song is a reminder of the way back home. When she makes a mistake, her community reminds her of who she is. When she feels insecure, her loved ones remind her of her beauty and purpose. I can’t imagine anyone feeling lost or unsure in that village. It would surprise me if anyone there ever felt that his or her life was off-track.
With that in mind… Shouldn’t everyone have a song?
The thing is, I think we all do. We just don’t have a village of people to remind us of the melody at each step of our lives. Instead, we’re left to uncover it on our own, which requires a commitment to really listening. The bottom line is, when we’re in tune life falls into place. When we’re not, things fall apart. That’s just life bluntly telling us that we’re singing the wrong song. Martha Beck once said, “This isn’t punishment. It’s enlightenment dressed as chaos.” Chaos in life is never easy, but it’s important to recognize it as an opportunity to step back, open your mind and listen to the song life is trying to sing to you. Often, this involves not actively hacking away at goals and intentions but, rather, sitting still and listening for a while. Like the women of Africa, this takes patience, trust and time. Once you recognize your melody, though, you’ll be free to jam with the best of them. Add some lyrics, a bridge, some harmony… really make the song your own. Before you know it, you might even be dancing along.