Different versions of the following story can be found, as retold by various authors*:
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she’s pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends. Together they pray and meditate until they hear the baby’s unique song. As they attune to it, the women sing it aloud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born the community gathers and sings the child’s song to them. When the child enters school, the villagers gather and sing the song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the altar of marriage, the person hears their song. Finally, when it’s time for the soul to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.
There is one other occasion upon which the village sings to the child. If, at any time during he person’s life, they commit a crime or a socially aberrant act, they are called to the center of the village. There the people in the community form a circle around the person and sing their song to them.
There is an implied understanding to this story. It is that each person is born with a song in them. A purpose in life. An essence that they are meant to express. In fact, we admire those who fulfill that purpose: artists, scientists, performers, activists… Yet how many of us dare to open our lungs wide and bellow our song out to the world?
Instead, what many of us tend to do is take on beliefs imposed upon us by somebody else: parents, teachers, peers, society, media. That story may sound something like: “I owe my family to keep working at this job.” “I am not good enough to be an artist.” “People will judge me if I stand out.” “Something terrible is going to happen if I let people see who I am.”
So we go on telling and retelling our story. This is the story we learned at an age when we did not have the wits to know any better. We have told it so many times that we take it for granted. Yet that does not make it true. A story is made of recycled thoughts that are not even our own.
Our true essence lies in the song we came here to sing. What would happen if one day you stopped telling your story and began singing your song? Wayne Dyer often speaks on his television appearances of reading Leo Tolstoy’s short story The Death of Ivan Ilytch. When Ilytch got to the end of his life and he was lying on his deathbed, he looked up at his wife, who was holding his hand. He had been angry at this woman his entire life, and his last words to her were, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” When Dyer read that story at age 19, he wrote a note to himself: “Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you.”
Your song is unique to you; may you find the courage and the clarity to sing your song. Don’t die with your music still in you.
*This African myth seems to be apocryphal. The version I used here was told by Alan Cohen, but it is also quoted in Connie & Alan Higley’s Reference Guide for Essential Oils, and incorrectly attributed to N’Shama Radha Sterling. I contacted N’Shama, and she denied having originated it, nor did she know where it came from. I kept it, nonetheless, because it illustrates the point beautifully.