Have You Ever Watched the Birds, While Listening to Wagner?

I was looking through an old half-broken laptop, and came across something that I had written over 6 years ago, when I was 21 years old. Prior to any knowledge of biodynamics. Reading it back it symbolizes a great moment of change in my life.


Have you ever watched the birds while listening to Wagner? This was the question that opened up worlds to me and made me question everything I had ever thought I knew. I don’t think I had even listened to Wagner. At least, I have never listened to his music with a purpose. It might have found its way to me in movies or played in my grandfather’s car when he would drive me to school if I had missed the bus. However, I preferred to rebel against classical music at a young age, and so closed myself off from its impact even when it played nearby.

I knew that Wagner was either German or Austrian and that he had been dead for a long time. Everything about this man and his accomplishments, other than those two pieces of information, was beyond me at this time. Nor have I watched the birds with my full attention before. They are a part of every landscape and can normally be seen from every window I have ever looked out of. But from the way this question was presented, I knew that I had never really watched the birds. Perhaps as a child, but we quickly adapt to our environments, and many elements fall into the background and are never pulled back into our world unless we give them our full attention. So, I could not answer yes to the question.

I don’t usually get asked questions so directly, nor questions so unique and hand-crafted. I was sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich during a break from work when the question was asked by a young woman whom I later came to know as Esti. I didn’t respond to the question because I felt I would need an answer that matched its boldness and directness. At that moment, I wasn’t capable of formulating a reply that would have satisfied me. Also, I couldn’t bear uttering the word “no.” So, I remained silent. All I managed was a faint smile towards this young woman. Although all the energy was going to my brain as I was trying to think of something to say, to seize this invitation to a conversation that had been presented to me. It would have been foolish to waste this opportunity with a beautiful stranger, as I have such a difficult time meeting new people.

During the hesitation between the beginning movements of my face forming a very slight smile (so subtle that it could only be noticed by those who were looking at my face before the smile was formed, a smile that would have been assumed as my resting expression if I carried it with me on my walk back to work), as soon as this smile reached its endpoint, the young woman placed her headphones on my head. She never said a word, neither did I. We broke many social conventions of how strangers are supposed to interact with each other, but I couldn’t object.

Before the music had even reached me, I was filled with love. I felt that endless paths had opened up to me, leading me in so many new directions. I had never experienced a moment so spontaneous. This was the grand disruption that I knew had awakened my soul. I began to concentrate all my senses, ready to embrace this music. Never before had I listened to music with intent. Never before had I perceived anything in my life with such careful intent. I felt like I had escaped the illusion of time and space, only to quickly return and feel the infinite present I was standing on, for the first time since my early childhood.

Wagner was my guide through the expanse of my inner world that I had never witnessed before. Then he took me outside to the world I thought I knew, to the park where I ate my lunch every day, but everything was different. The music carried my soul. I felt that I was striving towards something great. I felt that I had been shown the one true goal that had been hidden from me all my life. A goal that had been set for me by something beyond me. Later, I could only categorize this experience as having been reached by a future version of myself that had taken the finest path from all the possible paths that had been perceived moments before the music composed by Wagner reached the inner part of my ear.

I then followed the flight of a bird, a swallow. It seemed to follow the overture of the music, gradually building up in height toward heaven before swooping downwards, destined for the earth, to join other birds in a dynamic orchestra of flight. I was overwhelmed by all that my senses confronted and the series of revelations revealed to me in a span of time that would normally have been occupied by reading the latest news on my phone.

I felt redeemed by the love I found in the music and the birds. I looked towards this young woman with my eyes appearing like those of a man who had just had his life saved, although at that moment, I was unable to comprehend the full significance or the beauty that now awaited my discovery. I handed the headphones back to the woman and thanked her for leading me into a new world. We spoke for a while afterwards. She was a nurse from Bilbao and was in Oxford for the weekend to support her friend’s art exhibition that had opened in one of the city’s galleries. She had studied at the University of Manchester, so her Spanish accent was undetectable when she asked the question that initiated my journey.

Esti spoke to me about ideas and philosophies that were entirely new to me. I realized how little I knew about the world, how little I had questioned the world. And she had the same effect on me that the highest moment in the music had. It was the idea that we can build a better world, that we can become something more. The need we have to bring philosophy and art back to the forefront of our lives. It has been decoupled from society for far too long, and the consequences of this will be disastrous. I realized that philosophy and art, which had never been a part of my life, could bring health, abundance, and a heightened consciousness to our world. I had so much that I needed to learn.

I don’t remember the last time I opened a book. I only recall reading a handful of books during my time in school. One memory comes to my mind of how each student would take turns reading a single page. I remember how scared I was when it came to my turn to read, as I was never able to read to the class and understand what I was reading simultaneously. Afterward, we would analyze the book as a class, which was always a challenge and usually resulted in us jotting down the notes that the teacher had already prepared. We quickly transferred the words that came with little meaning into our exercise books, which we rarely looked at again except on the morning of a literature exam. This is my recollection of English classes in school. There were never any profound moments. Nothing I learned during my years at school impacted me in such a way that it became a part of me or changed the way I viewed the world. But during my conversation with Esti and the inspiration that the music and the birds had left on me, my attention was drawn to books that I now perceived as guides to the world and to how I would act in the world.

I didn’t know which books I would need to read, but I felt I needed to start somewhere. Embedded within each book I read, there would be a sentence or a quote that would lead me to my next book. I could see each new book I read growing in importance and profundity. First, I visualized this as a spiral growing ever tighter into the secrets of the world. Then, as a mountain where each new understanding I reached would be built upon the foundation of all the books I had digested before. Ideas would flow within me, and the world would one day reveal to me the very best ideas that humanity had reached. The greatest pieces of art would be disclosed to me, bringing with them the redemption my seeking soul now required. I could no longer hide in a state of ignorance.

I was so grateful to this young woman who had intruded into my life, who, during the most heartfelt music I had ever heard (later discovered to be Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”), had introduced me to a whole new world. She told me about her small hometown near Bilbao and explained her Basque heritage and her mother tongue of Euskara, which is unlike any other language in the world and a testament to the antiquity of the Basque culture she now inherits.

I hoped to see this girl again. I wanted to meet her again after I had wandered through the world she had opened to me. Whether she knew it or not, I liked to think she had chosen me on purpose. That she wanted to liberate me from the illusions and mis-teachings that most of us absorb. She told me about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela that passes through the Basque country, including her childhood town and Bilbao. I knew one day I would find her again, and I knew it would be during this journey when the time was right. She gave me her phone number, and I gave her mine.

As I thanked her and said our departing words, I realized her features would stay with me. I would think of her often, the girl who took my hand when I was lost, conformist, and soulless. She created the disruption that pulled me outside of society and allowed me to look inside with critical eyes for the first time. A seed had been planted in my soul by this experience. I needed to find the purest water and allow the sunlight to shine upon it so it could grow. When I’m old, it could provide shade with a place for others to rest after their morning toil. And if the season allows, they could reach for the fruit hanging from the branches and take nourishment for their own souls. I prayed they would encounter someone who would stop them and play Wagner among the birds.

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