The Rhythmic Story

Eternal Quiet.
Not even the sound of the restless, stirring, dark waters could be heard.

Then, a great spiraling strain of Melody moved across the endless waters.
Subdued at first, then quickly gathering momentum until it reached a great crescendo.

And, then, there was Life!

But the Melody did not stop.
It continued its song,
filling all of Creation with its divine harmony.
And so it continues today,
for all those who listen.

- from the Celtic creation myth Óran Mór (the Great Song)

Imagine two men who set out to travel to the same remote destination. The first is quite wealthy and can afford anything he wishes. Everything is prearranged for him. He simply boards his private jet and within a matter of hours he reaches his destination in comfort and security. The second man, who cannot afford such luxuries, is forced to take public transportation and perhaps to board a train or a boat or a bus. Along the way, he may encounter some discomfort and some surprises - good or bad - and may even make some acquaintances. He has less control over his travels and therefore is more susceptible to unknown dangers, risks, spontaneous events and serendipity that may carve out a lasting impression on him. In the twisting and winding of his journey are sewn the seeds of a potentially resounding story that could not be so easily written under more controlled or secure circumstances. Such a story can resonate with so much radiant beauty that it becomes transparent to something indescribable and significant. It is like great music. That greatness cannot be attributed to one single element but to a subtle dimension that materializes through the daring exploration of textures and timbres and the risk taken beyond the comfortable confines of certain ranges or octaves to the edges of harmony and dissonance. It is a rhythmic story that is significant of something more than its content.

Everyone has a story but rarely do we feel that ours winds and twists and comes together to reveal some ineffable significance or a certain cohesive rhythm or order. I am not speaking of metaphysics or some divine purpose or ideology but of a subtle, peculiar feeling that one is living from within a kind of composed, meaningful drama and any seemingly coincidental occurrences are carefully written into the script so as to not give away the show. Many of us experience moments in our lives when a series of certain apparently coincidental or hapless events come together in synchronistic ways to shape a fantastic story. Only with time is their significance revealed. We often credit some of these events with molding our lives or character; they make us who we are. The fact is that we all want to see our lives as poems or beautiful music. We secretly hunger for an experience, but not just any experience. From the staunchest atheist to the most devout, god-fearing believer, we wish to resonate in sync with something bigger than us. While we may claim that we are searching for wealth, love, happiness, notoriety, success, inner peace, eternal life, god, etc, we all fundamentally crave that deep, vibrant sense of a whole, cohesive and unique personal story. We long to look back on our lives at the end of our days and see a marvelous tapestry of sorts filled with dramatic colors, shapes and textures that reveal something complete and extraordinary, beyond words. For most of us today, that success or wealth or happiness or inner peace never truly arrives. We imagine what it is like to possess these things and then spend years or possibly a lifetime trying to achieve them. And in our frantic chase, we end up looking and acting just like the neighbor next door, another robot in a massive army of automatons. While we may reach the highest success in a career or afford the largest mansion in our neighborhood or marry the most beautiful man or woman or scale the peaks of meditation or sainthood, the reality always falls short of the initial idea. Why? Because all of these things are preconceived and static thoughts in our minds; they are fixed targets that have no resonance or vitality to them. They are only single, one-dimensional elements in a much bigger and multidimensional, dynamic story. If we stop looking to become someone else or to achieve something that we don't have and start to pay close attention to who we currently are and what we do have, we will notice a peculiar and subtle sense of being an inherent part of an intricately woven and incomprehensible higher-dimensional ordering pattern, a bigger coherent story. The very recognition of this pattern in one's life brings about a resonance with it that shapes a unique, personal rhythmic story of mythic proportions. Without a rhythmic story, we are nothing more than mechanized fixtures on the face of this planet, wandering zombies sheltered in a bubble of false mental comfort, touching nothing in life, consuming and defecating our way to the grave. The rhythmic story however is not something that can be achieved. It is already there inside us and all around us, and it works through the phenomenon of resonance, which is the key to everything under the sun. Resonance not only animates all that we experience in the physical Universe - sounds, colors, textures, etc. - but it also permeates the human dimension and drives our personal life stories. In other words, we and everything else around us are a dance. The Universe is a musical instrument of sorts and we are the song. In that sense, everything is really a symbol; therefore, it is important to read this article without taking any of the ideas here literally. I am using a system of language in the attempt to describe a phenomenon the reality of which lies outside the paradigm of our current thinking. In a similar way, science is also facing the difficulty of expressing its findings. When we think about the atom, we immediately get a picture in our heads of a setup similar to a solar system with electrons revolving around its nucleus. But science, for now, has revised the description of the atom to be a wave of some sort, not consisting of any substance at all. It is still a profound mystery. Even then, this idea of the atom being a wave must not be taken literally. It is better to think of it as a symbol. For this reason, as I will discuss later on, symbols and metaphors are the important link between the world we see and understand and the real world. They give us a glimpse into a realm where concepts dare not to tread.

Many creation myths, from those of the Hopi and Navajo Indians to the Australian aborigines to the Celts to the indigenous Yekuhana people of Venezuela, claim that the world came into being through song. Even our modern language uses terms associated with music and vibration, wave patterns and frequencies to express deep connections. When we wish to express our understanding or feeling about something, we say that a thing "strikes a chord" within us or "resonates" with us or that we are "on the same wavelength or "tuned into" it. Language as a medium of communication is itself a physio-psycho miracle of resonance. Through the vibration of our vocal chords, we produce ordered sounds that resonate in the air and reach the vibrating eardrum of the listener. Once there, they are interpreted in the listener's brain as signals that create coherent thoughts, based upon an agreed system of symbols and representations. We essentially recreate our thoughts in our listener's mind through resonance. We also speak of life as having its ups and downs and of going through "mood swings." We notice that our emotions constantly ebb and flow like waves throughout the day. We move in various degrees through an array of emotional states, from frustration to satisfaction to joy to sadness to boredom to anxiety to excitement to horror, etc. These emotions shift in concert with a continual undulation of thoughts in our minds. Somehow we intuitively recognize - and science confirms - that all things in the Universe, from our thoughts to the atoms in our bodies to the stars and galaxies, take their form through undulating wave patterns. We can clearly witness this oscillation when we throw a stone into a lake. The stone hits the water creating a wave that radiates outwardly through the water; however, the water itself undulates momentarily but does not move outwardly. A wave then is not a thing made of any substance or particles, as mentioned. Rather, it is a mysterious disturbance of sorts, the result of energy moving through a particular medium and causing it to vibrate.

While vibration can be technically defined as a back and forth or periodic movement between two different positions, resonance is more of a relationship, consisting of a synchronistic vibration with the entire system at its natural frequency. A familiar example is acoustic resonance, which is easily observed in musical instruments. If we take two adjacent cellos tuned to the same frequency (their natural frequency) and begin to play a note on one of the instruments, the other cello will take on that note and its untouched strings will begin to vibrate. The cello begins to resonate with the music of or "in concert with" the other cello because both share the same natural frequency. A similar phenomenon, entrainment is a function of resonance where two independent but interacting oscillating systems moving at different intervals begin to move with the same interval. The faster-moving system slows down while the other speeds up. This phenomenon was first observed by the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens in 1666. He noticed that two independently swinging pendulum clocks had moved into the same swinging rhythm after a given amount of time. Itzhak Bentov in his book, Stalking the Wild Pendulum, explains entrainment with an example using many grandfather clocks placed in the same room. They are all set in motion at different times and begin to swing at different rates. After some elapsed time, they are all found swinging at the same rate. Somehow the clocks lock into one common rhythm. Science attributes this to a small quantity of transferred energy between all the clocks in proximity when they are all out of phase. This produces negative feedback. As the energy is exchanged and eventually reduced to zero, the clocks reach a more stable phase relationship expressed as the one common rhythm. To sum up, we can humanize the definition of resonance as a movement of sorts in concert with or "in compassion with" something other or bigger or more complex than the individual alone.

The clearest or most visibly impressive scientific demonstration of resonance is cymatics. It is the exploration of wave phenomena most often expressed as physical patterns produced through the interaction of sound waves. A basic demonstration involves placing grains of sand on a metal plate of specific dimensions and then causing the metal plate to vibrate, perhaps by passing a violin bow along the edge of the plate. Depending on the resonant frequency generated by the bow, the sand accumulates in certain areas on the plate. These areas, where there is the least amount of energy, are called nodes. At these points the waves from the vibration cancel each other out. As a result, standing or stationary waves - vibrating waves that remain in constant position - shape the grains of sand into static patterns. Changing the frequency shifts the location of the nodes and the grains of sand, creating different patterns. A most familiar example of a standing wave is a plucked guitar string. The one-dimensional string, of a certain length and relatively insignificant width, begins to vibrate and forms a standing wave. It appears as a solid two-dimensional oval object when in reality it is, relatively-speaking, a one-dimensional string moving rapidly. As we see then, resonance can give the impression of multidimensional objects through the phenomenon of standing waves playing upon lesser-dimensional material. More sophisticated experiments have been done with cymatics by the Swiss scientist Hans Jenny, some of which involve bits of metal or rice or other material or fluid. In some demonstrations and depending on the frequency of the vibration being generated, the material takes on the shape of some type of creature and moves like a centipede or an amoeba, visually indistinguishable from a "living" organism. The patterns may also pulsate like a heartbeat or rotate, often taking on the shape or behavior of hurricanes on the surface of the Earth or spinning galaxies in deep space. Curiously, some of the patterns formed are similar to the mandalas of eastern religions. The important point here is that because of these stationary waves, it looks as though the vibrating material is frozen in time in a particular solid and static shape. But in fact, the solid form is an optical illusion and only arises because of standing waves in the medium, whether it's sand, liquid, rice, etc.

Guitar String

The insightful phenomena discussed above plainly confirm to us that everything is composed of inherent relationships or interactions that form patterns at all levels of magnification, from the minutest subatomic particle to the largest body in space. A human cell with its own nucleus, metabolism and various functions can be studied as an individual entity. As we change the level of magnification and enlarge our perspective, we see that this one cell is part of a pattern, a numerous number of cells that form an organ such as a liver or a spleen. In turn, we can also look at each of these organs as having independent functions. Change the level of magnification again and we see that these organs are really part of a greater pattern called a human being. This is where the level of magnification stops for most people. We do not feel that we are part of a greater environment or a bigger organizing principle, organism or pattern. In fact, we don't even "feel" the cells and blood flowing through our own bodies, even though empirical science tells us that this is so! Just like atoms, cells, and organs, human beings most probably form part of an incomprehensible pattern, which forms yet another greater pattern and so on and so forth. When science probes deeper into the subatomic world, it finds smaller and smaller elements and it can never grasp the fundamental substance or pattern out of which the Universe is made. Every investigation suggests that the fabric of reality is made up of infinitely smaller patterns contracting inwardly and infinitely larger patterns expanding outwardly. We get a sense that patterns seem to reflect the behavior of fractals or harmonic frequencies, which are the result of resonance. This may be a topic for another discussion; however, suffice it to say that harmonics, such as the ones found on a guitar string, are related to each other by whole number ratios and there are theoretically an infinite number of them. This suggests that every pattern is really created as a derivative of another at different magnifications. For this reason I stated at the beginning of this article that the Universe appears to be like a musical instrument of some sort; its patterns are created in the same way that harmonics resonate in a musical instrument. What does this really indicate? Clearly, there are other endless patterns or dimensions, big and small, that we cannot see or understand but to which we are inherently related or connected. Even science is now telling us that it could never explain or give us a rational picture of the Universe as it really is because more recent discoveries defy the very rationale that it uses to study reality.

In our ongoing and perhaps futile scientific search to grasp the primordial stuff of which the Universe is made, we are left with a dream-like, illusory quality to life and our world. The Hindus captured this feeling with their concept of Maya, which is usually associated with illusion. Maya suggests that life is a drama having no seriousness to it or no fundamental reality. It is a play that arises from the illusion of substance and dualities, the interaction between two polarities. In other words everything in the Universe is really a dance, a standing wave of sorts created through energy or vibration. We can say then that everything arises as a result of a disturbance of space. If that disturbance somehow were to stop or if we were to remove all vibration in the Universe, the world would cease to exist in the same way as a dream would dissipate at the moment of waking. This naturally leads to the most asked and, perhaps for some of us, the most irrelevant question: Who or what is generating this disturbance? This is the ultimate question of religion. We must understand that this is a conceptual question that can have no other but a conceptual answer. The question itself is as much of an illusion as the solidity of a standing wave. But if I had to form a conceptual answer for the purpose of this discussion, I would say that the disturbance is caused by an interaction with some other dimension outside of space and time, a higher ordering pattern of sorts. Admittedly, this answer may sound somewhat religious, but only if we define religion as the mind's fundamental attempt to resonate at the natural frequency of the overall ordering pattern of reality. Such words naturally pitch us into a labyrinth of abstract concepts and endless and perhaps worthless metaphysical arguments. But let us not lose focus of the topic at hand. It has nothing to do with the idea of a god, a prime mover or some kind of New Age philosophy. I am not talking about some entity or divine intelligence that constantly watches over its creatures, pushes all their buttons, pulls all their levers, tempts them, listens to their prayers and suspends them between fear and hope. All such conceptions and understanding are relatively crude, one-dimensional, fixed shadows of a vast, multidimensional and profound mystery, just as our model of the cosmos from a few centuries ago was severely limited and childlike.

When we wet our finger a bit and run it in circles along the rim of a wine glass, we generate a resonant tone, which is the natural frequency of the vibrating glass. We can also, under the right circumstances, take the same glass and using a strong, trained voice shatter it to pieces. The generated waves with different pressures from the voice and the glass clash and smash into each other causing the rupture of the glass. The same can also occur in life. Within the dissonances and conflicts, the ups and downs of every life there is potential for disaster as well as a rhythmic story. We only have to open the morning newspaper to read about some of the disasters: wars, murders, suicides, etc. We never hear about the rhythmic stories because they are transparent, although their effects can be seen by those paying close attention. We cannot chase the rhythmic story or strive for it because it is not something that can be found. It is not a question that can be answered conceptually. Rather, it is a like a song that arises as a byproduct, the result of waves interacting with each other in just the right way. The rhythmic story is the flowering of one's resonant relationship with that higher ordering pattern. Recognizing this story in one's life is not driven by a formula or a prayer or a philosophy or a religion or any kind of method. The significance of the rhythmic story in a person's life lies in the transcendence of the relationships between all of its parts, inner and outer: the people, the places, the person's history, environment, thoughts, emotions, etc. These elements normally resonate in harmony or in dissonance with each other. As we know, they are hardly ever in accord. Rather they push and pull on each other, creating tension and conflict that write the story of our lives. But through that tension and release between all of the elements, a certain beauty can arise that is resonant of something greater than the sum of all of these parts. The story is significant only if it is a symbol for something greater than its content; hence it takes on the quality of a poem or a work of art. We have all experienced beautiful music or poetry or painting or seen magnificent, breathtaking films. Like a music score or a poem with different sections, the rhythmic story is a composition the meaning or substance of which transcends the contrasting sections or the printed black notes or words on the page. The beauty of a composition is of another dimension that arises from the tension and release created through the different musical passages. We can also think of the instrumentalists in an orchestra who must act in unison or in synchronistic movements to give birth to the music. The players come together and as they play through consonant and dissonant passages, the music comes to life. When they stop playing, that dimension of organized sounds called music instantly disappears into thin air. In like manner, the rhythmic story is an elusive pattern that arises out of resonating elements. It is impossible to pinpoint precisely that concrete element which makes the rhythmic story significant. It is a mystery founded in a dimension or pattern that can never be seen, captured, counted or catalogued by the intellectual, conceptualizing mind. And paradoxically, the more we realize that we are an inherent part of this greater pattern - which one would think dissolves individualism - the more our uniqueness is expressed through our rhythmic story.

Notable rhythmic stories are never of wealthy, comfortable and successful people who amass more of the same. Rather, they are of people who fall out of the ordinary mainstream vision of life into a dream-like, synchronistic, and extraordinary world. In fact, some tales begin with worldly people whose comfortable lives are shattered as they are unwillingly thrust into an adventure that leaves them on the fringes of society, outside of their familiar environment. We have heard of fairy tales and myths of kings and princes who forsake the royal life for the love of a comely shepherd girl or the calling of the Song of the Universe. We adore and worship saviors and lords of the Universe who are not born in heavenly mansions but in a pigsty among animals and die humiliating deaths for the love of other, more lowly and fallible creatures. We read about immortal god-heroes who surrender their supernatural powers to spend their mortal days with a human lover. In all these stories, we see a pattern, which Joseph Campbell called the hero's journey. That journey is driven by the same "wave" which is the impulse behind every hero's journey. When the protagonist of the story rejects the life or the glory of the world as it has been handed to him and follows the impulse of his own, only then does he begin to resonate with that unexplained dimension, that higher ordering pattern. He risks all that he has in order to find what his life truly values and a unique rhythmic story emerges. But the rhythmic story cannot flourish without risk or in the presence of control, fear, routine, homogeneity or the constant need for security. In fact, our fear and effort to control according to our limited knowledge of life create an interference pattern that dampens the resonance and deadens the story. The key to making the story thrive and unfold is following a deep-seated, personal impulse that often takes us outside of our comfort zone and breaks social rules or taboos. In doing so our minds, which have been conditioned through fear, routine, the need for security, etc, are thrown off and relinquish control for a time. The entire system upon which we have based our comfortable or secure or routine lives is upset. And while it is temporarily out of balance, oftentimes causing psychological suffering and frustration, a new center is given the opportunity to take hold. That new center is not forced or pushed but formed under the auspices of the inherent energies that grow our cells, animate our bodies and illuminate the Universe and not the conditioned, socialized mind. And it is from this center, which is formed like a standing wave from the resonance with that higher ordering pattern, that the rhythmic or mythic story emerges. It may not necessarily play out as a happy drama. It may be tragic, sorrowful, joyful, horrific, funny, triumphant, etc., but it will always radiate brilliantly with an unspoken significance. And while the rhythmic story is shaped by dualities - which are in essence vibrations between two polarities - and unfolds in the dimensions of space and time, it transcends sorrow and joy, tragedy and triumph, space and time and all dualities. That is its significance. A film may end in sorrow and tragedy but if it is truly magnificent, the viewers will leave the theater with an everlasting sense of connection and appreciation for its transcendent greatness. It continues to resonate with them for a long time. This resonance is the pivot point where the despair or suffering in the film transforms into inexpressible meaning.

How do we live a rhythmic story? Is it even feasible to ask the question? Certainly, there are some clues but we cannot be helped by anyone or anything other than our own humanness in realizing the significance of the rhythmic story, just as nothing but our ears can teach us to hear the beauty of a song. One clue may be recognizing the importance of unequivocally accepting and taking responsibility for our lives as they currently are, even as we see nothing rhythmic about them. In other words, listening to the rhythms and sounds that our lives are currently generating without attempting to order them or force them into a particular pattern may be an insight into this mystery. Ultimately though, there is no method and there is no path. No amount of effort can help. When we realize that there is nothing we can do through our own struggle to achieve a rhythmic life - in other words, when we stop looking to what we don't have and see the value in what we do have - we paradoxically place ourselves in resonance with this higher ordering pattern. We begin to simply "ride out the wave" and are freed from the clutches of fate and the existential dilemma of free will. We come to realize that we are not victims or the products of chance. We are a local expression of this higher ordering pattern and yet, we are neither pushed by it nor can we push it (through prayer, meditation, effort, etc). It runs itself in the same way that our bodies process their fluids and digest food and fight off diseases without our conscious involvement. We enter the mythic dimension. We suddenly realize that our life is now and always has been a rhythmic story. The beating of our hearts has always been a testament to this wonder. We have always been dancing to the rhythm of this higher ordering pattern. Most of us simply don't know it or don't feel it because we don't speak its language, which is not of concepts and words but of images, symbols and metaphors. And they are all around us in the way we dress, in the places we live, in how we work, in the relationships we have, etc. This is the fluid language of myths and dreams that reaches beyond words and concepts. Symbols and metaphors work in the same way as acoustic resonance or entrainment, as described above. They evoke images in the mind that come from the same reservoir as those shapes and patterns of cymatics. Metaphors are not like abstract concepts, which force their way through the door of our intellect; rather, they are like a sensuous temptress that slithers into our most private chambers and excites our dreams. Concepts make things literal and hence petrify everything. Metaphors are fluid; they shift with the sands of imagination. Concepts narrow our focus of attention onto something specific while metaphors expand it into the realm of wonder. For this reason, metaphors are a key to breaking out of our current mental sphere that constantly pitches us from one concept to another, leaving us in the futile and intellectual search for the primordial, tangible substance of the Universe in the real world of patterns and relationships.

The ancients knew the importance of the rhythmic story and paid homage to it through symbols, metaphors, myths and rituals. Their world was filled with mystery, with different gods and demons that spoke to them through their dreams and the forces of nature around them. They had a different relationship with the Earth than we do now because they paid more attention to their environment and treated all things, even the terrain and the rocks, as part of their living, rhythmic story. They saw the world as a matrix of dynamic, interconnected relationships but we see it as a random collection of fragments, creatures or individuals. Our modern world has been "de-storied". We have blown it up into a trillion bits of sterile, mentally-edible information or data. Even the human being has been decoded. Our genes have been mapped into bits and sequences of data. Everything is counted, studied and catalogued. The myths of old have been emasculated, broken apart, explained away, or worse, made literal and exploited for commercial use and consumption. In fact, the word "myth" is often taken to mean a lie or an untruth. This is a clear indication that we have closed the door on that mysterious dimension of life the energies of which are expressed as a unique story in each individual. Rather, most of us are hypnotized or imprisoned by the same collective, homogenous and humdrum ideology, sanctioned and reinforced by our parents, teachers and governments. We shy away from change and seek after comfort. We have developed technologies and exploited the earth's resources to create, maintain and control a stable and comfortable environment. We mine coal, chop down trees and plunder the ground for oil to maintain and extend a certain lifestyle. And even while we have stability or security in the present, we strive to stow away more of it for the future. Through our escapades, we may be wishing to take ourselves to the edge of disaster and extinction so that we can really feel the drama that is life and force something new to appear, no matter how perilous. Many wealthy people, like the rich man in the opening paragraph, pay a lot of money each day to go on journeys that pitch them out into foreign environments and away from their comfortable lives for a short time. They want to lose themselves and live the life of a native - for example - in the jungle or the forests or the mountains of Tibet. Why do they do it? They are looking for an experience. They want to feel something real; however, they will never have true satisfaction because their experience is in some sense virtual and controlled like a thrilling roller coaster ride. It is a commercial experience. They eventually get off and return to their "ordinary" lives. Only those who really throw off the entire paradigm and say goodbye to their habitual ways are in for a wild ride.

When we ask the question "Who or what is generating this disturbance?", we are really grasping for a fundamental, life-changing experience. But we continue to conceptualize that experience in the same way that we live conceptual lives. If there is a clue to our dilemma, it is in the very beating of our hearts, the rhythm in our breath or even the act of observation of our thoughts as our minds search for the solution. But rest assured that the "solution", whatever it may be, will never have the answer. After all, a conceptual proof of the existence or nonexistence of a prime mover has no bearing on the sadness or joy that we feel in our hearts or the hunger that eats at our stomachs. Let us not stand idly on the sidelines hypnotized in this labyrinth of thought and miss the feast at the table and the dance in which we are invited to participate. If we must ask the question, let us first observe how the wind rustles through the tree branches for no other reason than to watch the leaves dance in his wake. Perhaps then we'll have our real answer and the question will become irrelevant.

© 2009 The Forbidden Heights

Each of us is a balancing element in a vast, multidimensional equation.