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Playing the Harmonica

Harmonies of the heart

Seated man in blue shirt and brimmed hat playing harmonica amdist trees.
Rob playing the harmonica in the garden at Evergreen

It’s evening. The first stars are out and a full moon rising. I sit in the lounge reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Rob picks up a harmonica (mouth organ) he bought on a whim and fills the room with harmonious sound.

I keep reading, the music a simple accompaniment to Kimmerer’s passionate words about the natural world.

The music stops. ‘Keep playing,’ I say. ‘It’s lovely.’

‘I don’t know what else to play,’ Rob says.

‘Just do what you were doing — making sounds.’

‘I was playing “Silent Night”,’ he says, sounding slightly hurt.


‘Oh! Play it again,’ I say. This time I recognise the tune.

When he’d started playing, I wasn’t listening for a pattern, for a recognizable tune. I just heard rich, heartfelt sounds. Once he gave it a name and played it again for me, it gained some meaning —  and lost some meaning.

Initially I’d sensed it as a whimsical expression of his inner feeling as his unskilled lips and breath found their way up and down the instrument, braiding sweet sounds. He was playing the harmonica, and in a strange way the harmonica was playing him. But now I knew that what had been happening had a name: ‘Silent Night’.

In her introduction to a talk by Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle, Tami Simon, founder and CEO of Sounds True, recommended the audience ‘listen with the ear of your heart’. Too often we listen only with the ear of our mind. We hear what we expect to hear, so we hear nothing new.

‘Silent Night’ is a nice song with sweet words, but this evening the ear of my mind wasn’t doing the listening. The ear of my heart was.

And I heard Rob’s heart, and it didn’t have a name.

It just was.

With love, Marlane

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