Stroll with Nicole

Listen to the music within

Nicole Law finds inspiration for a new and better year in the words of a poem.

I started the new year with a poem recommendation, Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite. Having not read poetry for a few months (despite there being various works languishing on my bookshelf) and an extended hiatus from writing it, my friend’s suggestion to read Singing Bowl offered a gentle re-introduction to the world of word wizardry. 

Begin the song exactly where you are,

Remain within the world of which you’re made.

Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.

Start with the very breath you breathe in now,

This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.

Stay with the music, words will come in time.

Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime

Is richness rising out of emptiness,

And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness

Begin the song exactly where you are.

Guite invites us to ‘begin the song exactly where you are’, which is sometimes the best we can do. We may not be in an ideal situation at the start of the year. The job market is weak, the pandemic’s shadow still hangs over us, and things don’t feel like they were pre-2020. 

We may be in a season of transition (as I am) and experience a sense of rootlessness, feeling unable to settle and sink our feet into solid  ground. Yet, even when we don’t feel ‘ready to’, we can always begin again, wherever we find ourselves. It just requires a small act of courage on our part. 

A seemingly insignificant question surfaces: “What is the next thing I can do?” Not the next 10 things, just the next single step. This is all that’s needed. I speak for many of us who feel overwhelmed at this time of year as we begin to adapt to new commitments, schedules and priorities. The essential thing is to let the ‘noise’ fall away and focus on the next step we will take – that is well within our control. 

We are then invited by the poet to ‘remain within the world’. Here he both warns against any escapist temptation and reminds us that any progress we are going to make has to be in this real world. Indeed, a big part of our progress precisely consists in valuing the reality around us: “Accept it all and let it be for good.” 

To achieve this Guite invites us to heed the call to slow down even through the busyness of the day, to breathe… To ‘remain’ is neither frantic activity nor inert passivity. It is valuing the present, the given: the only thing needed is for us to ‘stay’ with the present moment. 

Of course all of this is easier said than done, considering our tendency to extrapolate, plan ahead and get ahead of ourselves, often to the detriment of our sense of inner equilibrium.

A friend of mine reminded me recently that inner equilibrium leads to external equilibrium. A well-ordered life begins with taking the time to process our inner emotional states, both good and bad, and taking the time, yes, to write things down and talk things out with people we trust. 

For me, that involves some daily journaling and incorporating a routine of prayer when I start and end the day.

I find that spending the first few minutes of the morning in silent meditation helps me to focus on the here and now and sets me up for a better start to the day. I begin to ‘accept it all and let it be for good’, examining what is within and what is outside my locus of control as I ‘start with the very breath [I] breathe in now’. 

Even as I write this article, I am reminded to ‘stay with the music’ for ‘the words will come in time’. It is only by accepting myself as I am that I can gradually become more and better.

Guite uses the image of a singing bowl, a Tibetan musical instrument which produces a rich, deep tone when struck. We are invited to ‘become an open-singing bowl, whose chime is richness rising out of emptiness’. 

What struck me was how the hollow space within the bell is what gives rise to the rich tone that fills the space inhabited by the bell. How emptiness can paradoxically ‘fill’ space through the medium of sound. 

This reminds me of how some of the difficult times in my life have ironically been the ‘space’ I needed to develop greater empathy and generosity.

In fact, we need to be emptied of false ideals, pride and self-reliance to better appreciate our circumstances.

The ‘hollow’ in our lives represents the void we try to fill with fleeting pleasures instead of ‘objects of permanence’, as I like to call connections with others through real relationships. 

The richness of our lives lies in these ‘vibrations’, which invariably involve the movement of layers of air, much like how we are inextricably connected to the people around us. 

A kind act has the ability to spark a broader ripple effect – I am reminded of the generosity of friends and family for a poetry project I organised last year. It was very much like a ‘chime’, the vibrating metal giving rise to a beautiful sound that radiates outwards. 

The poet comes full circle when he again invites us into silence and solitude ‘when the heart is full of quietness’ – the need to return to our inner selves and to safeguard our hearts from the assault of anxiety and restlessness. 

Let us take heed and ‘begin the song exactly where [we] are’. Rather than wasting time lamenting our situation, let’s allow the expansiveness we are capable of to fill the space which lies ahead in the coming year!

Feeling overwhelmed this January? Trying to juggle too many things? Click here to read what Tascha Von Uexkull has realised about the ‘curse of busyness’.

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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