The miracle of birth, the silence of death — it's hard to judge which is the more mysterious. Yet pondering them, we discover they are not two events, but one, for all the processes of nature are a continual interchange. The wonder of it is that we have all participated in the birth process, yet it is still a profound mystery. Just as I don't remember anything about my birth, my daughter doesn't remember hers, my mother doesn't remember hers, and everyone on the planet is just as ignorant of theirs. But we can wake up to this process, at least in the inner realms, and participate consciously in birthing the spiritual aspects of our nature.
Looking around us we see two general processes in nature, one automatic and instinctual, the other self-aware, intentional. The first corresponds most closely to the realm of substance, the other to the spiritual. In all the events of our lives we can see this doubleness, and in my mind it roughly corresponds to the compulsion of destiny and the energy of free will. According to the laws of physical nature, once an action is started certain things logically and necessarily happen; but there are always other things which might or might not occur, depending on the creative response from the spiritual essence — and that is our opportunity to change events through a deliberate act of will.
Nothing in my life put me more in touch with both the automatic and intentional sides of myself than the birth of my daughter. There was more than one birth that day: my husband and I were born as parents when she was born as our child. The biological fact of parenthood was destined from the moment of conception, but shouldering our duties emotionally, mentally, and spiritually took an act of will. We can see through these events the unfolding of destiny and the dawning of free will, simultaneously as well as sequentially.
While I was pregnant I remember feeling very left out of the process. I did everything I could so that she would be a healthy, normal baby, but taking vitamins and getting exercise seemed a small part of the miracle that was unfolding. Never did I consciously participate in the fashioning of her infant body or soul. I thought I knew where babies came from, but after she was born I realized I didn't know anything. No egg and sperm story, no vitamins and fresh vegetables, no pocketful of possible truths could account for her. I had been around as long as I knew about, but where in the world did she come from?
I have come to understand that the conception and birth of my daughter was not so different from the conception and birth of any being or event, or even of insight. We attract or repel people to us just as we attract and repel thoughts and experiences, so if we wish to birth virtuous aspects of ourselves, we must make ourselves attractive and receptive to them. Thoughts have power. If we keep spiritual ideals in our minds, hearts, and souls, they will infuse themselves into our behavior and become the attracting agents for change. A Hindu maxim says that whatever a divine being yearns to become, that very thing will it become. We are divine beings, and an infinity of past yearnings is already acting to shape our future selves. Our attentive care to the present can help insure the birth of our divinity.
This mysterious, marvelous process includes remembering and discovering who we really are. While our characters may be stamped by our past, we can at any moment transform the present and future. We have the opportunity to be newly born each day, each moment — why don't we accept this challenge? Maybe we try to avoid it because the process is often painful, but holding on to yesterday's insights binds us to yesterday's fate. Every time we repeat ourselves or rely on previously discovered suppositions, we reinforce yesterday's horizon instead of enlarging our vision for tomorrow. When a new awareness dawns, when we resolve a conundrum, it is like bringing to birth a new aspect of ourselves. To do this intentionally takes knowledge, courage, desire, and practice.
When we increase our field of vision, when we suddenly see more deeply and understand more widely, everything looks different to us, a threshold opens out into unexplored territory and ideas. "Reinventing ourselves" is a large part of our ethos — a rather mechanical phrase for an organic and potentially spiritual process. It has a hopeful sense about it — reminding us that we can change, we can enjoy a renaissance on every level of our nature, but it takes knowledge and effort. After all, if we desired to learn a new trade, a musical instrument, or a language, we would not expect perfection on our first try. Moms-to-be are offered childbirth classes with exercises to prepare them; just so with bringing ourselves to birth in a spiritual way. Before anyone, any force or thing, can actively come to birth, the appropriate condition has to be created which will invite, seduce, attract, and nurture the spiritual essence to quicken. It helps to ask ourselves, What incubates new life? What helps us become receptive to the fertilizing spirit?
If we wish to receive new life, to take a self-conscious hand in our own renaissance, we need to understand our inner nature, particularly its cyclical nature. Everything has its own rhythm and motion. The earth cycling the sun, the moon circling the earth, and the seasons that come from these whirlings and turnings, parallel the birth, flowering, death, and rebirth cycles we see all around us. Each of us participates in countless smaller cycles: our blood pulsates, our breathing circulates, and nightly we move through sleep cycles. Every living thing has its own cycles which flow from and are in synchrony with the universal pulse of the cosmos.
This cyclic action has been called karma, that great process by which each action produces yet another action — its reaction — which in turn causes more action still, reminding us that we never act alone; whatever we do affects others. And it is not just outer actions that have meaning; nature is responsive to our inner orientation, our private thoughts, just as we are responsive to someone's tone of voice. The tone can support or contradict what they are saying, coloring the content with emotions and subtle levels of meaning.
Sound has magic and potency to it — in some traditions it is said that sound calls the universe into being, and if we knew how to listen, we could hear the stars singing. To some of us, this celestial music might be imagined as classical music — but of which culture, Western, Chinese, Indian? Ancient, or modern? Alternately, some of us might imagine the music of the spheres as an ongoing spontaneous creation of spirit, more like improvisational jazz. No matter the surface melodies or harmonies, structure is inherent in the rhythm which carries the music forward. The structure of sound, or of our lives, is a key thought, for it is this which helps or hinders the continuity and flow from the past through the present and on into the future.
"Every human being has more than a mere physical heredity," G. de Purucker wrote, "he has an astral, a psychical, an intellectual, a spiritual and, indeed, a divine heredity" (Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 395). We know that who we are now is dependent on who we have been in the past — decisions we made, experiences we had, lessons we learned or did not learn. If we are curious about who we were in the past, we need only observe who we are now, since we are the dynamic results. As we consider our past, we can too easily judge yesterday's deeds as good or bad, helpful or hurtful. Instead, what if we imagined each thought or action as its own sound? What if we thought of all our future karma, not as experiences we need to undergo, but as songs we need to learn to sing?
Purucker also wrote that "every atom in every object of nature, animate or inanimate, sings its own keynote and produces its own sound" (ibid., p. 204). We can picture each of us as both a member of a vast global orchestra and as an entire orchestra in our own right — all keeping time with the rhythm of the cosmos. Theosophic teachings remind us that we are embryo gods incarnate on an infinite pilgrimage through an infinite playground. We are ancient travelers, and if every experience has its unique tone, then we are also ancient musicians with a near infinite series of rhythms and melodies in our repertoire.
Sometimes we sing harmoniously with the rest of creation, but sometimes we are off-key or singing our own song, not paying attention to anyone else and making a real disturbance. At other times we even resist the flow, as if we just want to stop and hold on to what we've got. Alan Watts spoke to this when he observed that
the greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing. Music is a delight because of its rhythm and flow. Yet the moment you arrest the flow and prolong a note or chord beyond its time, the rhythm is destroyed. Because life is likewise a flowing process, change and death are its necessary parts. To work for their exclusion is to work against life. — The Wisdom of Insecurity, p. 32
Where is our song before we learn to sing it? Perhaps it exists partly in the mind — H. P. Blavatsky compared our minds to sensitive film wherein just a few seconds' exposure preserves an image indefinitely. But where does the song exist before the mind sings it? Whether our minds repeat canned programs, or whether we compose our own music, we always decide how we will sing.
I had this demonstrated to me several years ago at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. One forum was devoted to conflict resolution, and I participated in an exercise that revealed how easily we can learn to sing our own songs while blending in with others. First we were asked to imagine that each of us had our own note and, when ready, to sing out so that everyone else could hear it. "Close your ears and try not to be bothered by all the other notes in the room, just sing your own note," we were told. The room burst into a cacophony of noise, and we all frowned. Next we were asked to sing our note again, but this time to pay attention to our neighbors' notes. Again the room jangled with hundreds of voices singing at odd angles one to the other, but swiftly and subtly the sounds began to modulate as each listened. Without trying to change, each voice naturally accommodated the others till the room sang with a lovely chord. Hundreds of strangers, from all walks of life, made beautiful music and birthed a very special song that night. The happy laughter that followed reminded me that while it may be our duty and destiny, it is also our pleasure to sing ourselves and our world into being time and time and time again.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)