Twenty years ago an aboriginal shaman woman told me that I should listen to the songs that came into my head, as they were a form of spiritual guidance. I was skeptical of the idea, but decided to test out if it was true. So I got myself a nice hardcover diary and began to write down song lyrics that came to me, especially while meditating, or in the drowsy state as I awoke or just before sleeping – because these were the times the songs usually ‘appeared’. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that I was being fed a stream of profound information. Much of it was an attempt to get me to understand myself better; how my childhood and (I believe) past lives had shaped the way I saw myself and the world. The lyrics also helped me to admit my own shortcomings, and the way that I deluded myself, or had developed false or self-limiting beliefs.
I am quite a self-disciplined and determined person, but the downside of that is stubbornness, a tendency not to listen when others – or life itself – is telling me clearly that I am going in the wrong direction, that I am fooling myself. Whenever this tendency becomes pronounced, a particular song often begins to play in my head, like a proverbial broken record. That song is Frank Sinatra’s “My way”. Mind you, it took me a little while to work out what Spirit was telling me with this song. At first I thought I was being congratulated for being a self-made man (such are the narcissistic tendencies of the human ego). But alas the truth was entirely different.
In my semi-autobiographical novel The Mind Reader, there is a scene which is relevant. It demonstrates two ways that spiritual guidance can operate. The main character is Greg Marks, a young university student living on campus and trying to understand a spiritual transformation he is going through.
The voice of Frank Sinatra was playing in my head as I awoke from a late afternoon nap just a few days later.
For what is a man
What has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes it was my way
“Frank Sinatra?” As I threw my feet onto the floor I began to consider the possibility that someone “up there” was very, very old. My way. Yes, I had to do things my way. I couldn’t let anyone bully me or tell me how to run my life.
It’s too bad I didn’t actually take the time to listen to the real message I had been given. It would have saved me a lot of suffering. But I just wasn’t ready to hear the truth.
I was feeling particularly groggy, a tell-tale sign of some energy issue I should have been looking at. But I was just too tired to care.
That was another big mistake.
Since it was spot on five, I decided to drag my butt into the dining room.
There was the usual lineup of students at the start of dinner. I grabbed a tray and went to the end of the line. There was a group of economics students standing in front of me chatting, and I could tell they weren’t going to let me into their little clique. There was a moment when I felt somewhat alone and left out.
Within thirty seconds I was wishing I could be left out, because Frank Johns walked through the double doors, grabbed a tray, and headed toward the line. For a moment I seriously contemplated trying to scurry away, but I knew he’d see me and I’d hurt his feelings. But why was I even worried about the feelings of the strangest man on Earth? Surely it was he who should be worried about my feelings. After all, I was about to be subjected to his company.
As he approached, his droopy eyes caught mine. His face remained expressionless as he fell in behind me. He didn’t say hello, so I didn’t bother either.
Frank’s voice echoed inside my eardrum. “Those economics students not talking to you?” I turned to see him, his skinny white arms folded in front of his Sesame Street t-shirt. It was just the kind of stupid observation he liked to make.
What kind of freak wears a kid’s t-shirt on a university campus?
Frank nudged an elbow in the direction of the group in front.
“Nobody wants to talk to me,” I said, faking a big frown. I decided on dry humor. I should have just pretended not to hear him.
“Maybe they’re trying to tell you something.”
I felt like telling him something right then and there. Instead I just showed him my back. Most people wouldn’t talk to your back. But Frank Johns wasn’t most people.
“I only got eighty-four percent for my Commerce essay. That’s one percent off a High Distinction. I always get High Distinctions.”
I felt like I had to at least acknowledge him, so I turned about one degree towards him and said “That’s too bad.”
“Not really. At first I was disappointed, but then I realized it was really a good thing. It takes the pressure off me.”
I nodded, still looking ahead.
“How’s your girlfriend?”
I should’ve just ignored him. Again. But for some reason I said, “We broke up.”
What came next was truly weird, even by Frank Johns’ standards. He started singing.
“Yes there were times I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew, and did it my way…”
What the hell? His voice was really bad, like the final squawks of a condemned chicken just before it’s converted into McNuggets. I turned around, squinting at him. And there he was, looking back at me. Looking through me.
“’My Way.’ Frank Sinatra, Nineteen sixty-nine. Don’t like his music personally.”
I couldn’t help myself. “So why did you just sing the song?”
“I dunno. It just came to me. I don’t sing much.”
The little geek was smiling, like he knew something I didn’t. I blinked a few times. He didn’t.
Here Greg has received a piece of deliberately ambiguous spiritual guidance, and then experiences a synchronicity – Frank spontaneously singing the song to him shortly afterwards. In my experience such synchronicities are common. All minds are connected, and we often ‘channel’ consciousness from other minds and other dimensions without realising it. In this instance Frank is actually a conduit for the intelligence of “Spirit”, even though his character is not one with any spiritual inclinations.
Despite the obvious guidance, in The Mind Reader Greg chooses not to reflect deeply on the meaning of the lyrics, and allows himself to assume the first ‘desirable’ interpretation of the musical guidance – that he is doing well. Later in the novel Greg comes to understand the actual relevance of the song, but only after he has dug himself into a deep, dark hole.
In our society we have been taught to worship the individual and distrust authority, and that includes spiritual authority. The price of this is that we have become alienated both from the wisdom of our own elders, our intuitions and the voice of spiritual guidance (which may contradict our conscious wishes). The ideas of the civil society and the harmony of the family, group, nation and planet have become greatly diminished. There is a greater intelligence that transcends the isolation of the individual mind. But to access it we have to be willing to relax, listen to and trust a deeper part of ourselves.
There is a reason I am writing about this topic today. This morning when I opened the home page of the Sydney Morning Herald, one headline immediately caught my eye. It read: “God’s way smarter than Sinatra’s”. I opened the page to read an article about a recent talk given by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen. Jensen has stated that the popularity of Sinatra’s My Way as a funeral song shows a ”vulgar egotism” that exists in society. Jensen says that a culture of ”deadly individualism” is being driven by an obsession with materialism and technology. Like me, Jensen has noted the loss of community and the ability of people to work together. Of course, Jensen’s message is rather more evangelical than mine, especially when he starts talking about “moral ineptitude”, sin and being condemned to Hell.
The short article has generated 168 responses in quick time (at the time of writing), most highly critical of Jensen. Most have zeroed in on Jensen’s conservative theology and moralising tone; and those are reasonable criticisms, in my opinion.
Yet the reflex rejection of religion has hidden the fact that there is something important to discuss here. Society has gone too far in valorising individuality, and our institutions do not teach people the value of listening to wisdom and authority, including inner wisdom. The ability to relax the mind into a ‘receptive’ state – where ego is diminished and we can listen carefully – has all but vanished. Social media is exacerbating the problem. Open up the comments section of almost any popular media site, and you will see an effective cat fight as people metaphorically scratch and bite each other, attacking all those with opinions which differ from their own. The great irony of the critical comments that lie underneath the Sydney Morning Herald article about Peter Jensen’s attack on individualism, is that nobody is listening to Jensen or anybody else. They are all too busy doing it “my way.”
It’s worth reflecting on.
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