My bare feet sink into the dewy earth. We stand in a circle, arms draped around our friends’ shoulders, and sing madrigals in five-part harmony out into the sweet summer night. The sound seems to take on a life of its own, unfurling and folding in on itself as each note reaches for the next. The darkness envelops us in her comforting embrace, absorbing our teenage self-consciousness, and our voices rise and fall, carried on the swelling current of sound. In the space between the end of one song and the beginning of the next, we listen to the crickets and whispers and stifled laughter, waiting attentively until a voice or two from across the circle begins anew, the first strains of melody rippling gently out through the huddled bodies.
I was lucky enough to spend each evening for six summers this way, at a music camp in the rolling hills of Vermont. It was here that I began to learn how to listen. This was not a performance, there was nothing to prove; there was only the choir of voices, the silhouettes of friends’ faces in the moonlight, and the deep humming vibration in my chest.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha sits in the doorway between where we are and where we’re heading. His elephantine stature is an obstacle that blocks the threshold, requiring us to pause and confront the changes and challenges of life head-on. His large, soft ears invite us to listen with deep attunement into the spaces of transition, those cracks between day and night, inhale and exhale, today and tomorrow. “There’s a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen sings, “that’s how the light gets in.” I can think of no wiser pair than an elephant and a folk singer to teach us how to live within the cracks, to inhabit the uncertainty and infinite possibility of the in-between.
We’ll never stop having doorways to cross through, puzzles to unravel or agonizing decisions to make. So how do we traverse these boundaries in our lives with a creative curiosity, allowing room for what is unexpected or astonishing? Perhaps we can take a hint from the cellist Yo-Yo Ma when he says, “How do you get from A to B…could the next note be part of the first note, or could the next note be a different universe? Have you just crossed some amazing boundary and suddenly the second note is a revelation?” The beauty of music happens between the notes; the transformation of life happens between our breaths, our bones, our thoughts. What can be revealed to us by pausing and listening into the threshold between where we are and where we’re going?
Listening is an act of acknowledging the enormity of the moment, and the mystery it contains. If we let it, anything could happen in that open space, in the tenuous seam between one moment and the next. Virginia Woolf knew this too, when she wrote, “The words…sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves.” Can we let whatever we’re striving toward arise of its own accord, emerging from beyond the recesses of memory and the chiseled grooves of habit?
Let us listen to that tender thread, allowing it to dance ahead and lead us back to ourselves—and be amazed by what we find.