Every so often, my ears wake up, and when they do, I hear things I've never heard before. My eyes do this too, and suddenly I see things I've never noticed before - or see in a way I've never been able to perceive before.
Some of these awakenings have happened spontaneously when something struck me so deeply, it shook me out of some assumed level of perception, and into a new level of sensitivity and awareness - the first time I saw beams of sunlight streaming through breaks in a forest canopy and illuminating all manner of tiny insects and particles of pollen wafting slowly in some theretofore invisible-to-me realm, and ever after I have been more tuned to see specks floating in the atmosphere; the first time I really heard Kraftwerk in a way that grabbed me, and ever after I've sought out intricately crafted electronic music after a lifetime of tending towards an acoustic and organic sonic aesthetic.
Other awakenings have come through conscious development and consistent effort. Singing intervals with a single or two-note drone taught me how to hear and feel different types of intonation. Drawing objects illuminated only by candlelight taught me how to perceive the way light falls on and reflects off of surfaces, and how it casts shadows.
And some awakenings have been given to me. Books I've read, or people I've known have led me to hear and see things in new ways. Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain taught me how to see line and form by turning images upside down. This tricks the mind out of the categorizing left hemisphere of the brain, which thinks, "hand, arm, elbow," and into the right hemisphere, which thinks, "the line curves this way in relation to that line, and this angle is wide." R. Murray Schaffer's The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World alerted me to the transience of common sounds. He wrote about the extinct sound of the postal horn. Not only had I never heard a postal horn, until I read that book I had never understood why mailboxes often had images of horns on them. This was an emotive sound in a time when people could go months or years without hearing from their most dearly beloveds. Now the sound is gone, and there remains only an iconic image that has no meaning to the majority of the population.
Since reading that book, my ears developed a heart-centered intonation for sounds I cherrish but also recognize as impermanent - the endearing language of my cat; the comforting sounds of a heater or the ridiculous clucks of a refrigerator in a rental home; the shuffling walk of my elderly aunt; the rough yet tender voice of a friend who fell out of touch; cicada choruses on summer nights in the Midwest.
Sounds, like us, occur within or pass through a time and space, and move on into memory. And those memories, too, can awaken us to the ever passing and precious present that we will never hear or see again.