Gong Bath

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The sound of the gongs are tuned to the frequencies of the planets, creating the “Music of the Spheres”

As a drummer, I’m keenly aware of the effect that sound vibrations can have on a person physically and psychologically.  I can physically feel the vibrations of drums resonating in my body when I play, and I have observed the psychological uplift typically experienced by people immersed in the rhythmic environments of drum circles.  So when I had the opportunity to experience a special “Gong Bath,” I couldn’t resist.

Conducted by Universal Sounds of Saratoga Springs, NY using a wide range of singing bowls and planetary gongs, participants are immersed in a rich vibrational soundscape. Based on the premise that all matter has a vibrational frequency, they believe this resonant gong bath will help people retune themselves to find harmony.  They are called Planetary Gongs because each one is tuned to the vibrational frequency of each planet, as calculated by Swiss mathematician and musicologist Hans Cousto.  When played together, the air throbs with the music of the spheres.

It was a beautiful spring morning.  I arrived at the Hindu Temple with my yoga gear and an attitude of hopefulness.   I have been managing heavy stress loads lately, and I hoped this experience would help me hit the mental and emotional “reset” button.  Although I normally have a regular yoga practice to rely on in difficult times, my practice had evaporated over the past month, leaving me stiff and shaky on many levels.  My meditation practice has had to double down to compensate, but my internal resources were stretched too thinly. This special event was a yoga class followed by a gong bath, and I was equally looking forward to both.

The event was held in a large carpeted room with a stage running the length of the far wall.  Approximately 50 people had pre-registered, but I saw many walk-ins register at the door.  The room easily accommodated all of our mats without feeling too crowded.  I unrolled my mat, wrapped my blanket around me, anointed my chakras with essential oils that support meditation, and settled myself in to wait for the class to begin.

We began with a yoga class led by Jim Whiting, a Kripalu Yoga instructor from Body Mind Spirit Yoga in Delmar, NY.  Suitable for all levels, the practice consisted of gentle stretches that left us grounded and open for what was to come.  After a brief break to allow people to get settled and comfortable, the gong bath began.

I was laying down with an eye bag over my eyes when the sound began, and I had an immediate experience of synesthesia where  I perceived sound as color. I was quite surprised by the psychedelic light show that appeared against the inside of my eyelids as the gongs began to resonate.  It was a bit like Fantasia; each time a gong was struck, a different splash of color would appear in my mind’s eye, rippling out wider as the sound of the gong spread.  I was surprised by this experience simply because it seemed so unexpectedly cliché, and it happened so immediately.  This synesthesia only lasted a few minutes, but I found it fascinating.  But as the gongs began to overlap and the sounds became more layered, I became untethered in ways that are difficult to describe.

As the gong bath began, our only instruction was to get comfortable, stay present and immerse ourselves in sound.  As a seasoned meditator, “stay present” means something very specific.  Our minds all have the tendency to jump around from thought to thought.  We spend much of our thinking lives either dwelling on past events or thinking/planning/scheming/worrying over future events.  To be focused entirely on the here and now is a meditation practice precisely because we do it so rarely we NEED to practice.  For after all, life only really happens here and now.  We miss the richness of many experiences because we are mentally checked out.  Staying present is at the heart of Mindfulness Meditation techniques.  Just about any activity can be done mindfully, with focused awareness.  I’m not perfect at this, and my success varies according to my internal landscape, but I’m generally able to put aside distracting thoughts and focus on one thing attentively, especially if it’s something as lush and interesting as the rich soundscape of gongs that was making the whole room vibrate.

And yet, I could not.  As much as I returned my attention again and again to the sound of the gongs, as each wave of sound washed over me, I was swept away again and again.  Images arose, disconnected and unfathomable.  I saw a strange bearded man eating peanuts.  I saw a friend in a wedding dress. I saw fragments of images that never held still long enough to identify.  It was very much like a dream, yet I was very aware of and observant of this experience.  Interesting visual phenomenon replaced the color splashes of the synesthesia; the images in my mind wavered and spun, brightened and dimmed, shattered and reformed.  I was completely unable to bring any kind of mental discipline to the idea of staying present.  I was swept away.

I eventually sat up so I could hear and feel the sound of the gongs completely surround me.  There was a very physical sensation associated with the vibrations.  There were at least eight large gongs, and the sound was palpable.  An hour flew by in what seemed like only a few minutes.  Gradually the sounds tapered off, and there was silence.

I have had experiences that left me feeling charged and energized, but surprisingly, this wasn’t one of them.  What I mostly felt was emptied. I could clearly feel a residual sensation of vibration throughout my body, but it didn’t leave me bursting with new energy like I had expected.  Instead, I tapped a pool of exhaustion I didn’t know I had in me.  I went home and slept like the dead for two hours, an extremely rare event for me unless I’m ill.  As I explored this after-effect, I believe this result is because the gong bath actually did what I was hoping for.  I’ve been too tightly wound up for too long, and this gong bath managed to unravel that tight knot of tension.  The nap was my body’s response to my spirit unknotting.

It was a beautiful experience; one that I will seek out again.

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Becoming Buddha

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On the one hand, as a meditation teacher, I have a certain amount of professional interest in staying grounded, focused, and peaceful.  Live your practice, right?  On the other hand, as a human very much involved with living in the world, I often struggle with staying present in the face of challenges.  That’s why we call meditation a “practice”. 

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have been taught meditation techniques as a toddler, so the practice has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I sometimes wonder what I would be like without this experience.  I believe I have a great deal of emotional control, and I credit my meditation practice.  I don’t usually get easily flustered or overwhelmed in crisis situations.  When swept up in an emotional storm, I can find my way to the eye of it fairly quickly and re-establish equilibrium.  I can examine myself and my life situation from a place of compassion.  I forgive easily.  I love widely.

I meditate because I feel better when I do it.  I feel calmer, more grounded, more open to the world and my place in it.  I often get a clearer understanding of my own inner workings, and return from meditation inspired and refreshed.  Seeking that experience had been my only goal for decades, until I learned something that inspired me to greater heights.  As the ultimate meditator, I had always admired and revered Buddha, and so it was a great revelation to learn that Buddha wasn’t his name, but a title.  He wasn’t Mr. Buddha, he was A buddha: THE Buddha.  It was a description, a job title…and that meant I could be a buddha too.  Maybe I don’t need to meditate under a Bodhi Tree for 49 days to achieve this state of enlightenment, but what excited me was the idea that this state of ultimate enlightenment was available to me.  I could be an enlightened buddha.  Me.  Really.  Keep practicing.  So I do.

So I meditate for short-term and long-term results.  In my day-to-day life, it helps to keep the monsters in my closet.  In the long-term, I strive for Samadhi, a state of enlightenment.  I’ve always believed that we were born to this earth to learn and grow.  Meditation allows me to grow toward greater peace and fulfillment.

I keep practicing because I’m not there yet. Life still throws curve balls.  I still get caught up in the barbed nets of fear, anxiety, anger, and frustrations.  But meditation gives me the tools to escape from these nets, however briefly.  Hopefully one day I’ll manage to escape those nets entirely.  That’s the freedom I seek through meditation.

Blue Lotus Love

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yoga lake

The very first oil blend I ever created for myself had Lotus essential oil in it. That was seven years ago, and my love for this haunting ethereal aroma endures. I was first drawn to blending essential oils because I was fascinated by the emotional and spiritual potential of these potent substances. As a dedicated yoga practitioner, I actively seek the union of body, mind, and spirit, so essential oils are one of the means I employ. Because the Lotus is a symbol of enlightenment, it was one of the first oils I wanted to try.

I’ve experimented with White, Pink, and Blue Lotus, both full strength and in 10% dilution. Each one of these oils is subtly different in aroma, but all have a similar effect on the mind and spirit. Much as I expected to find from this sacred flower, Lotus brings serenity and tranquility, and supports a state of relaxed awareness, making it the ideal addition to a meditation blend. In fact, this first blend I made for myself was specifically designed to support my meditation practice, and I named the blend “Samadhi”, the yogic word that describes the final meditative state of bliss. For a blend with this high aspiration, I knew it had to contain Lotus.

Recently, my favorite supplier of essential oils, Marge Clark of Nature’s Gift, sourced a very special treat: Blue Lotus Infusion. When I first heard about how this oil was made, I knew I had to have a sample of an oil that was made with such painstaking dedication. As explained by Marge, “The producer [uses] equal amounts of pure Jojoba oil and fresh Blue Lotus blossoms. Seal, cover, allow to stand overnight. Drain off the jojoba, discarding the spent blossom, and add freshly picked blossoms to the Jojoba. Continue this process for 25 days. At the end of this period one is left with the most marvelously sweetly scented Blue Lotus infusion.” I knew I had to try it.

It was love at first sniff. Regular Lotus essential oil can be difficult to love undiluted. It has a deep, sharp undertone that frequently masks the more delicate floral notes it contains. Lotus is a water-borne plant. It roots in the mud, but floats upon the water. It really likes to be diluted to lift the more subtle notes out of the oil. On the other hand, the floral notes are so subtle that other oils can easily subdue it, making it a difficult note to elevate in a blend. But this Blue Lotus Infusion was different. It was bliss straight out of the bottle.

Knowing it was diffused in a skin-safe jojoba, I dabbed a drop on my wrist as soon as I could pull my nose out of the bottle. I was eager to see how it reacted to my skin chemistry, since some florals seem to fall flat on my skin. Blue Lotus Infusion held up beautifully, so I immediately filled my essendulum (a wearable sample bottle) so I could have this on hand throughout the day. Rarely have I ever fallen so in love with an oil, but this one was definitely just what I needed.

I lead a weekly meditation class, so of course I began using this oil in conjunction with meditation sessions. It is such a beautiful oil that it inspired a new meditation blend. I have been using it as an antidote to anxiety, grounding me in a time of great difficulty. It focuses my awareness on the present and brings peace when I let worry overtake me. It centers my mind and steadies my spirit. I call this blend Blue Dawn because it evokes the same sense of peace and optimism.

Blue Dawn:
4 parts Blue Lotus Infusion
2 parts Jasmine grandiflora 10%
1 part Patchouli
Equal parts frac. Coconut oil

As a devoted Jasmine lover, I usually prefer the Sambac variety, which has a richer, heavier floral than the grandiflora. I chose the lighter grandiflora here so that it wouldn’t overcome the sweetly delicate Lotus. The Patchouli is needed to ground this heady mixture, acting both as a perfume base as well as an emotional base. But be careful: a little Patchouli goes a long way; even diluted against the Lotus and Jasmine, people were able to detect the Patchouli immediately in this blend. But what a winning combination! I have been using this blend nearly every day as emotional support during a difficult and anxious time. Just pulling the stopper and taking a deep breath is enough to ground me and reconnect to the present.

This blend has been a true gift to me. I believe we are drawn towards oils that help us heal on whatever level needs healing. If we allow our intuition to inform our noses, we will be attracted to the oils we need most. Blue Lotus Infusion has become a powerful tool in my quest for serenity and peace.

Namaste.

(A copy of this article first appeared on the blog of Nature’s Gift on 26 April 2012. http://naturesgiftaromatherapy.blogspot.com/2012/04/blue-lotus-love.html I wholeheartedly endorse this company without any hesitation or reservation.  It’s ethically run by real people who care a lot about what they do.  If you are interested in essential oils, this is where you should get them.  And no, this is not a paid endorsement)

Another new beginning

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Recharging in the spring sunshine

“Wherever you are is the entry point.” -Kabir

This is the entry point where you and I begin.  I have been walking my path for a lifetime, and you have been walking yours.  Here, for a moment in time, our paths converge.

There is no time but the present.  This ever-changing now is all there is.  Thank you for being here with me.

I’ve been a writer since I first learned to clutch a crayon and scrawl my first thoughts upon the page.  I’ve also had an insatiable curiosity about the world, and my place in it.  I’ve always been guided by the core belief that there is some deeper meaning to life that is discoverable to the earnest seeker.  In one form or another, my life has been spent in search of this meaning.

I’ve learned a lot along the way, and a lot of what I’ve learned I’ve been forced to reckon with and discard.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s this:  Don’t believe everything you think.  Dogma closes us off from new ways of viewing the world.  I offer my observations from my perspective – engage with them or dismiss them as you see fit.

I consider myself to be a very practical-minded person, and yet I’ve been known to believe some pretty outlandish things.  That’s because my search along the road less-traveled has led me to conclude that the world is inherently more mysterious than we can ever fully grasp.  I think science is still hard at work explaining the currently unfathomable, and I follow their findings with as much avid respect as I do the teachings of other respected researchers like Buddha and Gandhi.  There are many ways to explain the world, and I’d like to explore them all.

Welcome to my journey.