John Denver was a gentle, loving soul of considerable talent and purpose. He sang with heartfelt clarity and graceful gravity, qualities his music often reflected. Annie’s Song is ostensibly a love song, John Denver singing a poetic list of metaphors for how grand the experience of loving a woman is, and being loved by her. What’s compelling about the metaphors though is that they could be common everyday experiences, mundane even. The kind of experiences we take for granted every day. Denver elevates them, finds in them a grandness he equates with the most soulful of loves.
like a night in the forest
like the mountains in springtime,
like a walk in the rain
like a storm in the desert,
like a sleepy blue ocean
you fill up my senses,
come fill me again.
How often do I walk through these scenes and sense nothing out of the ordinary, feel no expansion? How often are my senses not filled up?
I’ve been playing a word game I call “The Thesaurus Game”. One player picks a word. The other player looks that word up in a thesaurus, and chooses one of its synonyms. The first player looks up the new word, and chooses one of its synonyms. And so on. Any lover of words can appreciate this game. Aside from being a superb exercise in vocabulary building, the word choices often lead to interesting, revealing places. It’s fascinating to see where the words take you, or should I say where you take the words?
For example, after choosing “Lithe” in response to my “Supple” one player< explained…
The shape of a word, the way it comes together, is all part of its sensory appeal. It’s a texture in your mouth the same way certain foods either appeal to you or not. Jello is fun to eat… cause it feels funny in your mouth. Words are the same. The tongue tapping the front or the back of your mouth (say any word that has a hard g in it… it’s not near as pleasant as words with t. The tongue momentarily blocks your airway when you pronounce a hard g.) There’s a tensing of the jaw with certain words that have too many i’s or e’s. Words that involve your lips tend to be on the softer side. They feel nicer.
I love words. I love the many nuances of meaning, the way a few words can strip a ragged idea down to an essential truth. I love the way a word sounds, the way those sounds play off one another in verse and prose. I love how a word can create an image unrelated to its dictionary meanings by its proximity to other words (the paradox of a political party calling itself “Progressive Conservative” for example). A word can trigger an emotion, a memory, a vision, a song, a sound. But I’d never given much consideration to how a word feels.
All words chosen with as much attention to the sensations of speaking them — by the affect of them on our body — as to their meanings, their sounds, the feel of them in our heart, our mind, our soul. Now a single word can fill up my senses.
Considering this, I realise how far I’ve drifted lately. Last year…last year I filled up my senses. I discovered that the sunrise is a sacred experience, and nearly every morning would greet it with my didjeridu. I danced…on the beach, under the light of the moon…in a frenzied crowd to latin-techno. There were cold, crisp mornings so silent you could hear the snowfall, and nights by crackling campfires. There was laughter, and there were smiles and deep soulful kisses. A child’s glee, and skimming through curling envelopes of salt water. A road wound through Oregon into California, steep, curvy, wooded, a driver’s dance. Another drive along a seashore of broken cliffs and breaking waves. And another through a desert reef, crumbling red rock rising above the autumnal yellow aspen.
These are the sacraments of a sacred life. Fill up your senses with them. There is always room for more. A good thing, too. The more sacraments we observe, the easier they are to sense. Until the simplest acts, the most mundane events, become sacred, something as simple as sleepy blue ocean, or a night in a forest, or the lovely feel of the word forest as it forms on your lips, your teeth, your tongue.
As our lives become increasingly sacred, it’s just that much easier to love, the greatest sacrament of a sacred life. John Denver understood this: fill up your senses and fill yourself with love.
I agree, Peter, but it is a sad fact of life that for many people, running after children, raising family, chores and work suck up too much of our day to day lives so that what remains is not enough to fill up our senses with the things you have mentioned. For many, the choices are narrowed.
Well, those were the opportunities I had, and there is an element of the extraordinary to them, so I understand what you’re saying.
Not everyone can set aside significant portions of their day, can head out on a continental roadtrip. Not every full moon rises on a convenient evening for dancing. We can’t always take time to watch the sun rise over the horizon.
But the sun rises 365 days a year. Everyone can set aside a few minutes a few times a year. There’s a full moon every month (and a full moon dance on the nearest weekend, just a couple hours away from you in Verrierdale ;).
Everyone can appreciate the sacred in the mundane. Something as simple as feeling the tip of your tongue as it touches first your palate, then your teeth, when you sound out the word, “Lithe”. Do that for a while, and see if your image of the word doesn’t change.
Observing the beauty of living is not just about setting aside the time to do something extraordinary. It’s about focussing your attention on whatever activity is filling the present moment. I know how much coffee you drink. How often do you focus all your attention on any particular cup? On just one quaff? Let the sip of java swirl and roam around your mouth, savouring the flavours and aromas. Watch the barrista’s foam leaf or heart as it swirls and eddies when you lower the cup. Feel the warmth of the ceramic glaze.
The ancient sacrament was originally expressed as, “Stop, and smell the roses.”
Yep! Too true. Often it’s the very small things that make my day. A mum with a child, a warm smile from a passing stranger, rain on my tin roof, the way a possum can scurry along a thin cable, the joy in my dog when I return home, how Leonard Cohen rhymed ‘do ya’ with ‘hallelujah’. I often thrill in the small things in life.