The Music of Life

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

The music goes round and round is the theme of an old song. It referred to the spiral shape of the tuba or helicon, wherein the air flow describes a helical motion through the instrument. It is a suggestive shape, for we find it everywhere, most obviously in seashells and other molluscs. A plant grows branches in a spiral pattern, spacing its limbs according to a set of proportions known as the Fibonacci series. All observable motion tends to occur in a spiral form, which is part of a larger spiral, which in turn forms part of a still larger spiral. Our earth's orbit traces in space a small replica of the far greater revolution of the sun as it moves through the galaxy, which is itself a space traveler on a still grander scale. This causes earth's orbit to progress, making our track through the sky a spiral. As the sun itself performs a similar action, we are perpetually entering new areas of space and, in fact, never occupy the same locality twice. Each new day is in fact a totally novel experience, something which has never happened before. Seemingly routine, it is actually entering new areas in the reaches of cosmic space.

We can visualize the universal pattern that prevails throughout, from the microworld of nuclear physics to the immensity of cosmology. Beyond those extremes we can roam only in imagination. It is not unreasonable to postulate a galaxy as a cosmic molecule composed of its characteristic quota of solar atoms, and to discern in quantum mechanics the echo of astronomical events. This does not mean that every incident in the macroworld is detailed in the small, and vice versa, but the parallels are worthy of examination and recognition.

Everything in physical nature hints at our place and function in the larger pattern of earth's lifespan. As humans we are in a peculiarly advantageous position, for our minds are logically functional and, though beclouded in many respects, are capable of grasping some of the phenomena of life. We recognize the changing seasons and have even acquired the ability to escape earth's gravity in order to traverse spaces beyond the Van Allen belts that more or less clearly define the limits of the planetary body.

A recent television program featured a geologist who proposed that earth is a living body, though living at a much larger and slower pace than its component lives, which include the human, and he illustrated this with a story: A butterfly, with a lifespan of one day, perches on a giant redwood, which has grown immensely tall over more than a millennium. If you could ask that butterfly whether the tree is alive or not, would not the insect answer, "No, of course not. I have lived here all my life and it has never done anything, so it can't be alive." We are in much the same relationship to the earth as is the butterfly to the ancient tree. A recent cartoon featured a conversation between two fleas strolling through the fur forest on an airedale: one flea asks his companion, "Do you believe in Dog?"

Nature habitually repeats herself, though the repetition, either of place or in time -- or both -- describes not a circle but a helix. What we discern is rather like a spiral staircase encased in a round tower. Slits or windows reveal a vertical succession of treads that cause an outside observer to see only single steps or rungs one above the other. Each could represent a lifetime, so that many people unthinkingly suppose life to consist of a singular appearance on our home globe without cause or pattern. If we fasten on this supposition, as many do, each life can seem to be a random event, unpreceded by any cause, when in fact each life and, indeed, every event in each life, is describing an arc which is part of a spiral in space or time, or perhaps in progressive quality, each cause producing its appropriate effect and each effect in turn causing a further flow of events. Just because we cannot discern the changing pattern that governs a planetary or stellar body, we should not presume that it has no such design. The gods that maintain order and balance in the universe as a whole are surely beyond the compass of our thoughts and their life span as unthinkable as that of the tree to the butterfly.

The appearance of a universe is most readily grasped if seen as a musical progression. Music is a succession of sounds through time and each sound, or chord, is composed of individual notes. In the same way our universe with its vast variety of lives is assembled in hierarchies that compose larger units inward and outward, filling the infinite spaces, seen and unseen, that surround us. Since the primal fiat lux boomed through infinity, the echoes of that basic keynote have never ceased to reverberate throughout, accompanied by multiplying overtones, until you and I, miniature universes that we are, grew to express our own soundless notes, filling our little space with a symphony comprising a fullness of lives on still lesser levels of evolution. We each contribute our singular note to the cosmic symphony and, just as every note either adds to the beauty of the whole or, out of time and pitch, clashes with the overall harmony, we are either useful and constructive agents for the common good, or isolated discord in the music of life.

If we could hear the shrill treble of the microworlds and the booming bass of galaxies in motion, would we grasp the grandeur of the cosmic scheme any better than we do today? Perhaps. Or should we remain stultified within our limited understanding, just as we are now? Nature has always given us ample hints to suggest the everlasting pattern of its flow. Ever since the earliest thinkers of the human race first learned the craft of living from their predecessors, the gods, the wonderful instrument of mind has served us, even when pointed in the wrong direction and applied to the nether uses of material advantage. Our present world shows clearly that our choices often lead us into a tangle of unworthy aims and processes, and will as long as we persist in using nature as a conquered enemy rather than learning from her patient tutoring. By a process of repetition so carefully calibrated that every cycle mirrors the greater in the less, Nature works steadily toward increasing perfection, while mankind is too often concerned with stopgap temporal devices that tend to delay, or even thwart, the evolutionary process we are engaged in. Our destiny is glorious beyond imagination. Rather than waste human genius on trivial and unworthy pursuits, we have the right and duty to gain a more godlike understanding and comprehension of a greater scope as we and our more universal companions find ever more encompassing heights of conscious life within the infinite depths of Space.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press)

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