[perspectives on sound as a healing technology]
Part 1: Buddhism
It’s been an intense few months. Despite escaping the dread of winter and landing a new job, mental fluctuations, heartaches and pervasive anxiety have all been taking their toll, while the part-time nature of my work means economic precarity is a constant. As a result, I’ve been exploring practices to help ground myself.
I’ve tried to practice meditation in some form for a number of years now, first attending guided sessions at a Buddhist centre in North London, in between shifts as a project worker in homeless hostels. It’s something I’ve dipped in and out of, and have tended to return to in moments of difficulty.
Recently, I’ve become increasingly curious about the idea of using sound as a vehicle for meditation. It seemed like a natural continuation of things I’ve been thinking about, especially given the fact that I’ve always found music and writing to be meditative in and of themselves. Both are ways of eliciting altered states, in which the ruminating and over-analytical aspects of my mind subside, and it becomes easier to access states of deep concentration, focus and flow.
That’s what led me to attend a couple of sound meditation sessions, using singing bowls, led by a former Tibetan Buddhist monk now residing in Bristol.
One of the things I remember best from the first session I went to was the idea of ‘showering the mind’: the idea that we should be taking the time to become aware of what is happening within us – psychologically and emotionally – in the same way that we generally take the time to clean our physical bodies every day.
The other thing I took a way was the idea that the sound has no form. Sound is powerful, transformative even, but it is also transient. This is reflected in the practice of meditation, which is a tool for being able to observe the passing of our thoughts, without judgement and without entering into dialogue with them. The idea of sound as a healing technology is central to the practices of both Buddhism and Hinduism, especially in the form of chanting mantras, but also in the use of singing bowls, which are tuned to different frequencies, designed to affect the body in different ways and create different emotional responses.
In practice, while meditating to the sound of the bowls, I found that my mind was sometimes caught between trying to focus on my own breath, as it is usually is during meditation, and on the timbre of the sound I was hearing. Nonetheless, the experience of focusing on one tone at a time opened up a fresh space in my head, less clouded by thoughts and the cycle of constant internal chatter.