Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Lost Chord and the Wild Within

In days of yore, when I was a musician, my friends and I sometimes referred, half-jokingly, to the Lost Chord. Legend has it that some distracted soul doodling at a piano one day struck upon a combination of tones that so mesmerized him, he spent the rest of his unhappy life trying to recreate it. It was the sound of bliss, the strange music of the spheres; it was the answer to all his questions, ever.

Turns out the idea was born in an 1858 poem by Adelaide Anne Procter and set to music by Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It then filtered down through the eras, in books and film, til it was in every musicians' vernacular. It's a quick way of referring to endless attempts to realize an ideal. Musicians practice hours a day, clumsily trying to construct with their horn or axe what they hear so hauntingly in their head.

So, here's the segue: I think this story perfectly reflects the nature lovers' endless quest to experience the purely wild.

Once a place has been trodden by human heels, it has, in some way, been changed forever. By definition, it can't be wild anymore. Even the first person to arrive, with open heart and eyes, has changed something by their very presence. It's like the cliché about a quantum physics experiment: the results are irrevocably changed by the very act of observing it. And there are few places left where humans haven't stepped.

If there is something we can call truly, fully wild, then by definition, it excludes humans. Can a fully wild being conceive of itself as wild? Doing so assumes a great, steaming pile of abstractions and cognitive connections which seem inimical to any definition of the word.

This is why I can understand the reasoning behind severe access restrictions in certain limited places. A country needs its unexplored spaces just like a human needs a lively and mysterious unconscious. In fact, those untouched places might be physical manifestations of a national collective unconscious. Dream places, as the aboriginal people of Australia think of them.

So, this would all mean that we really can't touch the wild. We can catch its scent, bask in its slightly diminished glory when we go out there. But if we really want to know wild, we have to go inside.

Much ink has been spilled on the idea that spiritual enlightenment (or Nirvana, or god-realization, call it what you will) is an intrinsic, native state to which we can return, "if we but have the eyes to see." Lots of things get in the way: Our daily buzzing, distraction... our getting and spending... our very self-awareness itself. And yet, a simple, subtle shift of mind, body, or heart does the trick right away.

It's not that easy, but it is learn-able. Like meditation (my chosen road to the inner wild), any method used to get there will feel oafish and awkward until, with endless practice, it starts to feel natural. You  start to find it bubbling up even when you're not practicing. (Hmm, anyone hear more musical instrument metaphors in here?)

Can we know Wild? Can we fully touch it? It calls us into the woods, mountains, waters, to drink as deeply as we can. We feel our souls vibrate sympathetically with that chord, like the untouched strings of an open piano. And then we go back home, and somehow we feel bereft, empty.

Myself, I'm trying to cultivate the wild inside me, so that when I go out, I'm in synch that much quicker, and when I come home, I'm still nourished, from the inside out.

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