Outside In – Symphony of Sound


by Marc Piane

As I sat there the first thing that caught my ear was the sharp, distinct song of a cardinal. I looked around for him but the tree cover where I sat was very thick. His song was so bright, so stark. I decided to close my eyes and let my ears drink it in.

That’s when it happened. The cardinal call was so prominent, like a melody of the forest song, but then another series of birth calls, more like chirps and squeaks, sneaked their way into my ear’s eye. Seemingly much less organized than the single line of the cardinal. At first I tried to identify the bird. I had heard it before. But it occurred to me that the instrument of the player was not important at this moment. The symphony continued.

I focused on my breath. The funny thing about actively attempting to enter a meditative state is that trying not to try is a paradox of sorts. I remember a meditation teacher telling me once that you need to give your mind something to do. Have it pay attention to your breathing. Sama vritti. Equal length breath. 1-2-3-4-5-6…6-5-4-3-2-1

As the cardinal song soared above the chirps of the multitude I began to notice a slight thumping sound. At first it was a foreign sound to me and my mind tried to classify. Maybe it was drops hitting the leaves from the rain that had slowed. There was a moment of my mind starting to lose the fragile focus I had just started to find. Breathe. 1-2-3-4-5-6…6-5-4-3-2-1.

A wash of sound whispered steadily underneath the cardinal song, the cacophony of chirping, the thumping of dripping water hitting leaves. Wind. Wind in the leaves. Thousands of leaves all whispering as the air of a light breeze brushed them. Ancient trees responded with very quiet creaks and groans as the wind pushed their branches gently to and fro. 1-2-3-4-5-6…6-5-4-3-2-1.

I sat there in a moment of stillness. I felt a thought come over me. If these sounds are always there, why don’t I notice them? Layer upon layer. The mind is a powerful thing. We filter out so much surrounding experience. We have to or we’d never be able to have a conversation or complete a task. At that moment though I saw the importance of slowing down, giving my mind a break, and letting experience flow. It all starts with breath.

Almost as though a conductor had cued a change something happened in the canopy of trees that disturbed the steady wash of sound. All at once the cardinal stopped. The cacophony of birds got quiet. Only the thumping and the wash of wind on leaves remained.

I sat there for a moment longer. Breathing. 1-2-3-4-5-6…6-5-4-3-2-1. Slowly I began to open my eyes. How long had I been there? It didn’t matter. This was exactly why I left my watch at home. The temptation to scrutinize fractional divisions of eternity.

I noticed that the sun was past high noon and I did want to make it to the crest of the rolling mountain before nightfall so I had a safe place to camp for the night. It gets very dark deep in the woods.

I put my water bottle and the wrapper from my granola bar back in my pack. I hoisted it on my back. Life with the legs. The time I had taken to experience the symphony of sound all around me had rejuvenated me for the next leg of my hike.

I headed up the trail.