Meditation and the Gong Bath Experience
A Gong Bath is often promoted as a meditative experience. But how close to meditation is it? The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatum (to concentrate or to ponder). It is an ancient tradition with its roots in ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions around 2,500 years ago. Sound is often used to support meditation and Buddhist monks use chanting or Himalayan bowls to focus attention. The sounds in a Gong Bath can also help you to be present and bring awareness to your thoughts as well as encouraging deep relaxation.
Continue reading to find out more about meditation and how the beautiful sounds in a Gong Bath can help to quieten and calm the mind.
Mathieu Ricard (a Buddhist monk and scientist) explains that ‘meditation aims precisely at softening the mind and rendering it more manageable, so that you can choose to concentrate or relax.’ Many people find meditation difficult and give up precisely because the mind will not stop its chatter. You need to remember that the mind is playful, inquisitive, and curious. We jump from thought to thought, thousands of times a day, getting swept along in a constant flow of thoughts and internal conversations. If you find meditation difficult though, you are not on your own. Dr Sanjay Gupta (Keep Sharp) describes how he had the privilege of meditating with the Dalai Lama. After a few minutes he was asked if he had any questions to which he replied that he was finding it difficult. ‘Me too!’ replied the Dalai Lama ‘After doing it for sixty years, it is still hard.’
Just as in meditation, the intention in a Gong Bath is not to clear, empty or silence the mind. The sounds from the various therapeutic instruments help you to focus your attention, quieten and calm your mind, not to stop your thoughts. I often get the comment ‘I couldn’t silence my mind’. I remember when first experiencing a Gong Bath I thought the objective was to slip into a blissful space, completely clear my mind, float off somewhere… and of course that didn’t happen. I didn’t really know what to expect then, but I now know that in a Gong Bath the best advice is to remain open to the experience, allow, submit, relax, go with the flow, see where it takes you. You need to have a calm, accepting, compassionate approach.
As you drift into a deeply relaxing state in a Gong Bath and the stresses of life begin to ebb away you can start to listen to your inner wisdom. As you are drawn into the present moment you can calmly and peacefully begin to observe your thoughts, become aware of physical sensations, and take note of your emotional state. I always enjoy the Spiritual Fair Cartoon showing long queues of people lining up for past life readings and future telling and no one for meditation – ‘Present moment anyone?’ calls the women in the middle booth. As humorously represented in The Uncarved Blog, we spend most of our time in our heads, thinking or worrying about the past or the future. Gong Baths will help you to experience the present moment and focus on the ‘here and now’.
It is natural for the mind to chatter and the aim in meditation is to observe the mind rather than control it. Let the mind wander, accept what turns up. A comment by Eckhart Tolle is particularly helpful if you get caught up or feel stressed when the mind is in full flow. ‘Don’t judge or analyse what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don’t make a personal problem out of them. You will feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the silent watcher.’
Whether you are meditating or relaxing in a Gong Bath the way to manage the chattering mind is to be gentle, compassionate, understanding and non-judgmental. If your mind wanders, and it will wander, observe the thought, and let it go. Then go back to the breath and refocus. Thoughts will continue to arise you simply notice, let go and do your best not engage with your latest construction or story of reality.
In both meditation and a Gong bath, the intention is to slow brain waves to bring about a relaxed state of being. Brainwave speeds are measured in Hertz (Hz) to give the number of cycles per second. In our everyday waking state Beta levels dominate (13-30 Hertz). We are fully conscious, wake and alert. Alpha brainwaves are slower (8 – 12 Hz) and indicate that you are in a relaxed, calm state. You are likely to experience peace and tranquillity. Theta waves (4 – 8 Hz) occur when you are in light sleep, and they are encouraged through meditation and sound therapy. You are in the world of unconscious thinking and tapping into the subconscious. You may have vivid dreams, complex imagery, and mystical experiences. As random thoughts and ideas flow in free association you can tap into creativity, wisdom and knowing.
When I begin a Gong Bath session I always start with a guided relaxation. The intention is to focus on your body and the breath to start to bring you into the present moment. This preparation brings you into a receptive state to lessen resistance to relaxation when the sounds begin. Calming the breath is the first step to slowing brain waves. When I begin to play the instruments the process of entrainment begins. Your brainwaves synchronize and lock into the slower pace of the sound frequencies, the nervous system calms down, blood pressure is reduced, the heart rate slows, and the body moves into ‘rest and digest’ mode.
As you bathe in the beautiful sounds of a Gong Bath sounds it will add depth and ease your meditation journey. It will help to bring emotional, physical, mental and spiritual issues into perspective. Aim to be consciously aware of the present moment. Be an objective observer. Witness your habitual ways of thinking, notice negative thought patterns that are holding you back from making changes in your life. In time you will begin to let go of habitual ways of reacting to situations and start to act with awareness, with insight. During a relaxing sound session pay attention to your body, notice physical sensations, and observe emotions that arise without judgement or criticism. Remember too, that sound therapy can be good for focus, concentration, creativity, self-awareness, wisdom, compassion and love.
It can be a good idea to keep a personal log or diary of your journey, record what you experience in each Gong Bath and note down changes that occur in the days that follow. Journaling enriches the experience and allows you to trace your progress. Just as in meditation you could choose a topic, an intention before you begin a session. Universal topics such as unconditional love, compassion and gratitude can be used to deepen your connection to everything, a feeling of oneness, your relationship with nature, the universe and all living entities.
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You too could benefit from the kind of experiences described above.