Strange Sounds in the Woods
Sweetwater Vale, on the edge of which our little house is perched, is friendly enough in the daytime. Chickadees, squirrels, and rabbits make their homes here, and the most frightening thing you’ll encounter is the occasional black bear wandering through.
But at night, everything changes. Having lived at least a small portion of my life in these forests, I know most night sounds. But Sweetwater Vale holds odd mysteries. Strange, piercing wails cut through the cool night air. Sometimes an indescribable chittering sound fills the dark. And often, there are deep, throaty pulses that echo off the pines.
Two nights ago, we heard something that roused us from bed and called us out onto the damp lawn. It was clearly, we decided, the call of an injured cat. Having an affinity for creatures of all kinds, we set off, barefoot, padding into the darkness. The cat, crying out with agonized yowls, seemed just beyond the trees. But as we moved closer, the sound moved away, so that no matter how deep into the woods we went, we never drew any closer to the sound. Finally, convinced that we were chasing an auditory will-o-the-wisp, we turned back toward the light of the house. The cat would have to find its own solace, for our rescue had failed.
Then, last night, standing on our deck, we heard the sound again. But this time there were two cats, and both were calling from high in the trees. Awed by the strange calls, we watched for a long time, until suddenly Rebecca pointed. There, banking in circles against the grey night sky, were the silhouettes of two owls, engaged in some secret nocturnal dance. As we watched, one flew silently over our heads to another stand of trees.
Tonight, still unsure of what sort of owls they were (barn owls?), there are new sounds outside, moving through the trees like pale ghosts. Mysterious sounds, most of which will never have a name.
We tend to hold a world-view that is full of mystery. Think of all the unknowns in life. What will tomorrow bring? What is the right choice? What is the nature of life and death? We often take this world-view for granted, but have we ever considered that we might be creating the mysteries of the world?
I once heard a very puzzling statement. It went something like this: We know everything we can possibly know about a given thing right in this moment.
What sense does this make? If I hear a strange sound in the woods, it’s obviously being made by something, right? And if I went into the woods to find the sound, I might discover what is making the noise. It is obvious there is a mystery waiting to be discovered!
But this invokes a certain psychology. Instead of experiencing the sound as it is, my mind lays veils over it – in this case, I can miss the sound for the mystery. In other words, our mind’s immediate reaction to discover ‘what’ the sound is can divorce us from experiencing the sound itself.
The end result of this mind-set is that we’re always searching, always questing after what lies behind the world’s phenomenon. In this way, the actual experience of life passes us by, ignored in favor of ‘discovering more’.
This doesn’t mean we can’t continue discovering new things. Venturing into the woods to discover what the source of the sound is can be a wondrous adventure. Even conjecture – trying to figure things out or guessing at things – is an exploration into the workings of our minds.
This process of ‘discovering’ the mysteries of life eventually makes life more and more superficial for us. Part of this process is the act of naming – we see a strange object, and we continue to be amazed at it until it is given a name and brief description. Then we tend to think we know what the object is, and our sense of wonder dissolves. Our sense of mystery can easily become an almost obsessive desire to ‘know’ what things are. But can we really ever know what a thing is?
We can, if we pay attention to our mind’s tendency to want to ‘un-mysteryize’ the world. Paying attention, we can stop long enough to discover what’s going on right Now. And if we truly do this, we find that even the ‘dullest’ of moments is full of immeasurable wonder.
Some people feel that their wonder at the world is enhanced by this search after mystery. But if we’re constantly trying to uncover things, it’s easy to miss half of the world’s offerings. As we search after the secrets of the universe, we’re really searching after the secrets of our own perception – and this searching is truly awe-inspiring. But we can experience this at the same time that we experience the indescribable wonder of This Very Moment.
It’s all about Awareness – not awareness of the world, but awareness of the workings of our own psychology, and how that psychology creates the world we think of as ‘real’. This is seeing into Maya, and in the moment that we see what Maya is, the world becomes enriched in a manner that is truly beyond description. We’re not giving up our ability (or even our desire) to continue exploring the world – we’re just fully engaged in the exploration.