June, 2005

 

Mythic Prelude:

 

All the Diamonds in the Vault

 

Please take a deep breath. And another, and a few more. Thank you and bless you for practicing in this moment the rarest and most precious treasure on this relentlessly raucous planet. Thanks for the quiet that unites us in the imaginative, intentional space we share.

Silence, whether the starry peace of the desert or just the apparent absence of sound -- and the higher frequency that may actually be hidden within silence -- is much in my mind now, though not in my ears, as I write these words in the swimming pool area of the New Radwan Hotel in Luxor, Egypt, and I listen whether I want to or not to the speeches coming from the mosque next door. The good news about this moment, apart from my getting to sit here in a light cotton robe from Hawaii, drink Stella beer and jump in the pool when it's time for a break, is that the muezzin who's singing the evening prayer has got some set of pipes, and a tone quality so smooth that one can well imagine his voice was the kind the Prophet (peace and please, quiet too be upon him) had in mind when he envisioned a world called to worship by beautiful voices chanting from the towers their passion for the beauty of the Lord.

The tough news, of course, is that one has no choice but to hear the prayers and rants that are blasted over loudspeakers here in Egypt, and presumably everywhere else in the Middle East where believers are aggressive in their sound. In the peopled places of Egypt -- that is, all the places except the desert and the remote sacred sites -- the song of the muezzin and the bark of the imam are inescapable. The Egyptian government recently floated a proposal to create standard recorded calls to prayer that would play simultaneously at mosques throughout the country. This would have the advantages of insuring that the calls to prayer would go out at the same times everywhere, and would be sung in the melodious, exquisite voices that God may prefer as much as human beings do. There was an outcry, of course, about unwelcome government interference in religious affairs, though no one seems to have advanced, at least publicly, the baby-and-bathwater argument that having Egypt's best sacred singer record the prayers would have put all the other talented muezzins out of work, along with the host of execrable ones. And so, no matter what happens or doesn't happen here, one can never say about any outcome that it's all over but the shouting, because the shouting never seems to end.

Egypt is one noisy country. One expects the notorious blare and scream of traffic in a city as huge as Cairo, where 19 million people are racing and pushing to survive on monthly salaries that would hardly cover a week's DVD rental in rich countries, and where half the art of hustling in the bazaar is in having a voice that pierces the hubbub, cutting through all the other noise to catch a buyer's ear. But even outside Cairo and the other cities, even in little towns with one-bottle markets where old speaker wires are used to hold bicycles together, the whole country is loud.

Shouting defines a person's official and social position here, and projects his power. The higher one's rank, the louder he gets to shout at others, over greater and greater distances between himself and the less powerful one whose lower position forces him to endure being yelled at. One can wonder on first hearing this why a boss who wants to give an assignment to a subordinate doesn't simply summon the other person over and talk to him, but instead shouts at him from across the room or down the street. Both the boss and the underling hold their places in a delicate protocol of distance, in which it is understood that the person who is being yelled at must not approach the shouter, for doing this would diminish the superior person's importance, implying that the boss is not as much of a long-range hot shot as he thinks. Maintaining distance maintains respect -- and narrowing the gap can qualify as a challenge, even an act of defiance when two people of close or the same rank are doing a two-way shout. Such dances of ego friction and hoarseplay can get deafening and dangerous on streets like the one where I used to live on the island of Zamalek, near central Cairo. The building next door to me was an American embassy staff residence, protected at barricades manned by soldiers, uniformed cops and plainclothes secret police -- yes, in Egypt even the spooks are loud -- where the daily routine was a running voice fight among status-challenged men trying to outshout the others, and thereby claim their power and defend their turf. When you consider that a young rank-and-file soldier gets paid about 110 Egyptian pounds a month -- less than US $20 at today's rate -- then the game of shouting for self-respect becomes a primal battle that Darwin could have cited, and it's no wonder that the poor soldiers, even in the winter when the heat doesn't enervate them, are perpetually exhausted.

There are wild cards in scenarios like this one, most of them held by women. It soon becomes plain as you listen to the soundscape here that one way a woman has of redressing the power imbalances in this thoroughly sexist culture is to develop a voice that can only be described as a sound weapon. At its most formidable, a woman's voice, especially as it gets older and is toughened by the strain of caring for both children and childish men, cuts as rough as the shriek I imagine Kurt Vonnegut had in mind when he wrote that the voice of one of his characters sounded like a bandsaw cutting galvanized tin. Teachers of small children in Egypt all seem to acquire such voices, and to imprint them on each new generation of little shouters and screamstresses. Egyptian TV and movie comedies typically build toward a lowly man's explosion in words, as the goofy, roly poly guy who's spent his life being shouted down by everybody else finally blows, and lets out a righteous roar that breaks every chain he's ever borne, and sets him free -- and gives his audience a brief, vicarious respite from the poverty and hopelessness of their own lives. And then -- rarely heard but always dreaded, there is Code Red, the most formidable thermonuclear sound bomb of all, the Egyptian matron. A fed-up Egyptian wife can cut loose with a sound blade deadlier than anything even Nikola Tesla or the U. S. Navy could have devised. You have not heard a woman tear into a man until you've heard an Egyptian woman do it. This may be why the only person a man won't shout at in public is his wife. He doesn't dare risk provoking the one who can shatter his eardrums, and give his self-esteem a blister the size of the Aswan High Dam.

And even people who love each other shout at one another in storms of yelling that sound hostile but really aren't. A typical business negotiation unfolds like the opening of one of Haydn's Sturm und Drang symphonies: a slow introduction in a few minutes of mellow, murmuring adagio is followed by a more urgent, frenetic theme that moves into a crescendo of staccato shouts that comes to a climax as one party proffers documents to show he's not a crook, and the other indignantly pushes the papers away as though affronted by the idea that he'd think his colleague less honest than a Bedouin who'd steal a donkey from his own father. The shouting leads to a clatter of minor chords full of tablas and tympani, then the volume eases back down through major chords, smiles and laughs, ending in an afterglow of languid assurances that everything is kwayyis (good), and the deal is done. Could the bargainers have reached agreement without all the shouting? Sure. But where's the fun in that, and where's the respect for oneself, and the other man?

These questions are much on my mind now as I come to the end of my first year in Egypt, and get ready to fly to some summer work in Hawaii, and above all to go again to the sacred heart space of pristine Makua, where the beach is so quiet that you can almost hear the shooting stars as they fizzle and hiss across the sky. Much more will be written in the months and years to come about how human beings practice our power, or bear our impotence, or live in love or rage or fear, through the ways in which we use or don't use our sound. It's not really true that the poorer and the less powerful people are, the louder they get, as Thoreau understood when he wrote that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Whatever features of nationality, geography, religion and culture apply here, and make the poor people of Egypt much noisier than their counterparts in lower Africa, South America and Asia, remain to be seen, or, more likely, heard. For the meantime, one of the crowning ironies of life in this land of extreme opposites is that the same country that pioneered the ancient sound science that Pythagoras learned, and encoded it in sacred sites of majestic, solemn stillness, now barks and screams at all hours, as though silence itself were a mortal enemy. Perhaps it has always been this way everywhere, at least in places where aggressive people are on the move and the make, and this is why our collective wisdom has coined so many adages to the effect that empty barrels make the most noise; those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know; and silence is terrifying to a mind that fears to know itself. For all I know, I may be one of the few who find the silence of the desert delicious, and believe that in a planet filled with chatter and static, silence is no longer merely golden, but worth all the diamonds in the vault.

It is about to get a lot noisier on this planet, and will then suddenly get much more quiet, as human beings everywhere are either stunned into silence by the shock of baffling new events, or play the new soundscape in a more spiritually proactive way by owning the noise and passing through it, and treasuring the silences that one can and find and devise, then creating ways to live within them, and plumb their mysteries. An excellent moment of opportunity for playing silence in the most conscious way comes at the top of this month, when lightworkers across the planet will align in the Oneness Celebration organized by Swedish Mayan scholar Carl Johan Calleman, author of many books and articles on the Galactic Creation Cycle which, according to his reckoning, reaches its exact midpoint on June 1 and 2.

Whether one agrees that the coming moment of spiritual transformation will come as Calleman expects on Oct. 28 , 2011, rather than on the more commonly-anticipated date of Dec. 21, 2012, is beside the point. What matters now, and in the weeks before Saturn makes his momentous crossing into Leo in July -- see Summer 2005 Astral Notes -- is that windows for learning the skills of silence had best be used when they present themselves. The emphasis in much of Calleman's writing about the key dates in the 13-year Galactic Creation Cycle is that there are times when we celebrate actively in ceremonies of music and motion, and times that are better suited to celebrating receptively in silent meditation that clears the mind and opens the heart for the higher frequencies of consciousness that we absorb in the stillness of union with the Divine energy.

Time will tell us when it is best to learn and sing the seven sacred vowels, to tune ourselves amid the sounds of nature, and to gather for events that align sounds and souls for the retuning of human consciousness with Mother Earth and Father Sky.

Time will also tell when it is best to go again to Beni Hassan, near Akhnaten's ancient capital of Tell al Amarna, where the "tombs" of high court officials were cut from the living rock in precise geometries of sound that make them some of the finest resonating chambers in the world. They echo and redouble sound in so many overtones that one's voice, and breath, and heart and vitality, grow as big and vibrant as the room itself. This suggests that when voices are truly aligned with one another in sacred space, all details of melody and harmony vanish, and everything blends into the One Sound that seems in its purest resonance to be the voice of All That Is. It is easy to wonder, when looking at the harpists and singers on the walls at Beni Hassan, which they loved more: the beauty of the music they made in praise of the One, or the silence that followed when the chords and voices faded away into no mere absence of sound, but the faster, finer frequencies that only the soul tuned to love can hear.

Find That Frequency -- and then, Keep Holding It.

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Copyright 2005 Dan Furst. All Rights Reserved.