So last night was a whole new level of woo woo that my brain is still trying to process. You have to understand that Amchara is such a safe, nurturing space that after a few days here if they told me that I needed slugs in my ears to cure insomnia I’d probably just nod compliantly and go ‘OK’. Walls and personal boundaries start to come down here very quickly. There’s something in the air and the way the staff are that make any suggestion that you might balk at on day one seem like an experience you’d give a go by day three or four…even just once…just to say you had.
So when I heard there was a Sound Healing Workshop on Tuesday night, I thought it sounded fun and interesting. I had no idea what it was about, and neither did Nay because she’d been working so hard this year she’d not had a chance to try it herself yet. Lovely Jane told me that if I thought her bonging her ringing bowl at the end of yoga was funny then I’d definitely find it a hoot. So when it came to the evening I was really curious, and quite excited to try it. Sadly, Nay was still feeling a little wibbly wobbly after our excursion and decided she needed to rest some more at the apartment. But like many people here at at Amchara, I went on my own.
I was warned beforehand to be on time, because otherwise they ‘close the healing circle’. This rule instantly raised my hackles a little because all the other activities allow you to ebb and flow in and out like waves according to need (although of course they encourage you to turn up on time for things so you don’t miss something important, but there’s no sense of *pressure*). There was something about the idea of a circle being closed without me in it that put me on edge from the beginning. It reminded me of that Doctor Who episode when the portal between the dimensions closes leaving the Doctor trapped one side of ‘the wall’ and Rose trapped the other, crying her eyes out and thumping at the bricks – shut out and alone. I knew I HAD to be in this circle so my little legs walked faster to the yoga studio than they’d moved this entire trip.
I met Anita, the Marie Claire journalist, on the way in and she expressed a worry to me that it would go on for a long time as she needed to be doing something else this evening. We’d heard rumours that the guy running it ‘could go on a little bit sometimes’. As I opened the door to the studio my heart sank. In the centre of the circle of yoga mats and pillows was a selection of interesting looking instruments, gongs and bowls….and a large pot of burning incense. ‘Bugger’, I thought. I’m allergic to most incense and find it triggers my asthma, as well as finding it really quite unpleasant to smell. So I expressed my regret to the ‘Sound Therapist’ guy, whose name I didn’t get, and explained why I had taken one look at his setup and practically pirouetted towards the door. ‘Stay,’ he said – ‘You can always leave if you need to later’.
I paused to think for a moment about how much I wanted to try this new thing versus the possibility of having an asthma attack when my Ventolin inhaler was way back at Nay’s apartment the other side of the complex. The guy opened a window for me and gestured to the mat nearest the door and I thought ‘What the hell!’ and sat down in the circle.
Other than the candles lit around the gigantic gong at the back of the room, the only light was the last of the setting sun through the window. It was quite dark and atmospheric with the smoke from the incense lingering around the central space. The guy running the workshop seemed quite brooding and intense to me at first perception, and something about him put me a bit on edge if I’m honest. I’m a pretty good people reading in my job and I must admit he’s the one person I’ve met on the island that I didn’t feel completely comfortable with or immediately trust. I studied him carefully, trying to understand what it was about him that put me on edge but I couldn’t quite figure it out. His olive complexion, dark hair and sculptural hooked nose gave him an interesting and not unattractive appearance. His arms were covered with tattoos – symbols I couldn’t make out in the dark without my glasses on. But I think something about the way he spoke – soft and low but with incredible intensity, assumed authority that put me on edge.
When he started explaining to the room the principals of sound therapy – how everything in us from our cells to our emotions vibrates at a certain frequency, and certain frequencies of vibrations caused by instruments can bring any ‘blockages’ in those energies back to a safe default so we can heal or work through things ourselves more naturally made a sort of sense. I didn’t ask him for empirical evidence or probe the ‘science’ further, because I was here to experience something, and that thing didn’t have to be something I completely believe in. I’m quite open to listening to other people’s points of view of the world and learning from them, taking whatever feels right to me, without needing all the facts to be in perfect alignment with what I feel I already know. So the explanation I could cope with, but what I couldn’t cope with was the way I felt this man kept LOOKING right at me. I watched him as he spoke to see if he stared so much into the faces of the other people. I couldn’t quite tell but it felt to me (and again, could have been a perception thing) that he was really looking at ME more than others when he was speaking. Like perhaps he thought I needed this therapy the most. Or maybe he could see my bloody chakras were all out of alignment again, like the person who’s walked into a pub with their skirt tucked in their knickers and you’re trying to communicate this to them using your eyes alone without having to point and draw even more attention to it by announcing it in front of the room.
I tried to ignore it and was grateful when he told us we could lay down and close our eyes. Explaining he would be using different sounds and drumming close to our body at times. ‘That’s OK’, I thought, imagining something akin to the bowl bonging lovely Jane had done in yoga near my head.
I’m going to have to make up a name for this guy whose name I didn’t get until I can ask someone what he’s called. His set up seemed a bit uncomfortable ‘shamanic’ to me so I’m going to call him Damon the Shaman. Even though he looked more like someone who would be called ‘Darius’ or ‘Dante’ or ‘Merkaloid’. So Damon the Shaman started by getting us to do some funny loud breathing, which I could tell from the reticence in the room to joining in with that we all felt a little embarrassed about, despite funny breathing being a very common activity at the start of most classes and workshops here. This was particularly loud, building towards Damon making a sort of loud swishing SSSSSHOOOOO!!! noise with his mouth at the end, which under normal circumstances would have just made me get the giggles. There was no giggling here. And maybe I am projecting my own feelings onto the group but I got the feeling I wasn’t the only one who felt just a little bit freaked out at this point.
So it was a relief when Damon started using the instruments instead of just his omenous mouth hole to make sounds – starting with an amazing ringing bowl. Seriously, Jane would have bowl envy if she’d seen Damon’s ringing singing bowl thing. It was big enough to make enough strawberry jam in for the whole of the Kent County Fair. When he bonged it, it really *sang*, and you could genuinely feel the tingles on your body as the sound waves bounced off the sandstone brick walls and around the room – like a giant bell, singing and humming at the same time. BONGGGG!!! BONGGG!!!! (with a background mmmmmmmmmmmm). Of course, my imagination being what it is, I was immediately reminded of another famous BONGGGG and from then on was plagued with a voice in my head every time he hit the bloody thing saying ‘Good evening, this is the news at ten.’ because in my mind it sounded just like Big Ben. When one is trying to find one’s place of relaxation and healing, it is a bit annoying to be constantly interrupted by the voice of Trevor Macdonald in your head. However, it soon passed when a new instrument, a hand drum of some sorts was introduced to the mix. Don’t ask me what kind of drum, because I had my eyes tight shut at this point as Damon walked around the room rhythmically thumping and patting his drum and began making the sort of noisy singing chanting stuff that you see American Indians do in old Cowboy movies when they have someone tied to a totem pole while everyone dances round a fire.
The bowl kept on ringing by itself for sometime after it was bonged, which in itself is pretty impressive, and the drums also reverberated around the space – the two loud sounds complementing each other and filling the room with physical waves of vibrations you could genuinely feel over your body like gentle tickles. The weird wailing I could totally cope with, although in my imagination Damon was suddenly naked except for a loin cloth and a feather headdress and moccasin booties because of it. But that was OK. Because of the way sound bounces off flat walls it seemed really strange sometimes that Damon seemed to be drumming in one corner of the room according to my ears but his singing was coming from a different part of the room. I made a mental effort to double check my aural perceptions to make sure it wasn’t just some other member of the circle who had felt compelled to start chanting like a nutter as a result of the drumming, but then I remembered that aside from Damon the Shaman, everyone in the room was a woman.
Then I noticed the vibrations from the drumming getting noticeably stronger around my feet. It was really tickly and I squirmed a little, wiggling my toes in response. I then became aware of Damon’s presence right near me with his drum. ‘Relax’ I told myself, ‘This is just like Jane did in yoga with the bowl – he’s giving you your own special experience.’ So I took some deep breaths and tried to relax but Damon didn’t stay at my feet! Before he’d even bought me a drink or taken me out to dinner, Damon was DRUMMING AT MY LADY PARTS!!!!!
The Britishness in me is a bit like how bunnies go in the headlights of cars about to run them over and I just went all stiff as a board, clenching my eyes tighter shut and playing dead because I honestly didn’t know what was expected of one at this point. It felt like the drum was about 2 mm away from my foo and the vibrations were so intense and fast that it was just like…well…(whispers)…just like a vibrator. My poor private parts, who have been completely asleep while I’ve been away from my sweetheart, were a bit stunned to be woken up in this way. I could feel them saying ‘What…what the actual fuck? What’s going on?’ The way that a bear feels if brought out of hibernation too early, or the way I feel when on my one lie-in of the week some workmen decide to start drilling right outside my house at 7am or something. It was a bit embarrassing, and also a little bit alarming because I’d certainly not expected my genitals to be requiring ‘sound therapy’. If my genitals wanted therapy, they’d probably have opted for something a little gentler like CBT or a bit of hypno in a quiet room, rather than being shaken awake by loud drumming right above their head.
Bringing myself back to a ‘safe space’ in my mind from this unexpected intrusion, I thought ‘aaaaah….feet then genitals…he’s working his way up my chakras!’ And my theory was proven right as he then moved his drum to my tummy (which felt really weird after the colonic earlier in the day) and then my heart and then my head. I felt much better knowing that he wasn’t just singling out my Um Zjah Zjini for a special concert and started to just relax a bit more enjoying the amazing sounds as they bounced all around me and through me as I got into the rhythm and the groove of the music.
I listened intently as he moved around the group, one at a time, and wondered if the demure lady from Marie Claire had got as freaked out as I had been when he drum-serenaded her holy of holies; but then I remembered in the talk earlier when she told me she’d endured a week of Urine Therapy once in the interests of an article she’d been assigned to write, so I thought she was probably made of stronger stuff than she looked. We’ll know when her article comes out in Marie Claire Online some time later this year. If you find it, let me know – I’d be fascinated to compare her experience of her stay with mine.
After the drums, came a really funny boingy doingy twangy wangy thing which I thought was a jaws harp thing, but sounded almost electronic. I knew if my sister had been there she would have had terrible giggles at this point, setting me off. Boingy noises always made us laugh as kids and made us start boinging round the room like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.
After a bit more breathing, wailing, drumming, boinging, pinging and clanging, Damon the Shaman started moving round the circle again. This time (thankfully) just near our heads and upper bodies with some twinkly bell sounds. Like hundreds of Tinkerbell fairies or tiny cherubs were surrounding my head. It was gorgeous. My favourite bit, in fact.
The waves of different sound definitely had a physical effect – the loud ones reverberating through my whole body. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the psychological effect. I can’t quite describe them as hallucinations exactly because my eyes were closed but I had the most intense, incredible, vivid primal visions repeatedly ‘come at me’ from my resting state. The first one came with the sound of drums and ringing bowl, and it started as a bubbling purple cloud – a mailstrom of pulsating smoke swirling in a circle. It looked to me, like the brewing the universe does before the birth of a star. Like I was watching the beginnings of a new cosmos deep in space. That alone was astonishing, beautiful, unsettling even – and I must admit I started to wonder just what kind of incense he was burning. But then new visions kept popping into my head – children whose faces turned into old people and back again in a moment, like I was seeing them back and forth through time all at once. Rich jungle scenes with rain beating down and the wetness and the greenness so real I could almost feel the leaves against my cheeks. The ocean crashing around me – the waves moving back and forth, back and forth – except I wasn’t drowning. I WAS the ocean. I had become one with the sea, I was water and I was free, crashing and flying and ebbing and flowing in total ecstasy.
I’ve never done drugs (at least nothing a doctor didn’t prescribed). And those who know me, know I value my brain too much to mess even with natural ‘drugs’ like dope or mushrooms. But this is exactly what I imagine being on hallucinogenic drugs to be like. And I kept wondering – if we can reach this state through sound and relaxation alone…why does anyone risk drugs? The brain itself is what provides us with all the possible moods and visions. Drugs are merely a shortcut, a catalyst…but it is the brain itself that provides that experience. So many other cultures through history have known this – the use of dance and drums and singing and breathing techniques to achieve a state of nirvana, high or hallucination. Yes, many also use psychotropic substances to get there quicker (and possibly helping along those with the less vivid imaginations) but a little patience and the right knowledge may be all that’s required. However, I could see that it might just be my own private experience and confirmation that I’m completely fruitloop. (It wasn’t…I checked with Nay later and other people have reported back to her about having a similar experience, and some even wackier than mine). It was truly extraordinary and although out of my comfort zone in many ways, I am SO glad I experienced this and can say there’s been nothing like it in my entire life.
But then it started to go down hill a little. By this time we’d been laying on our backs in the same position for a solid hour and I was beginning to get crampy. The Marie Claire journalist, managed to sneak out around this point without disturbing the group. Good on her. Because Damon started getting his groove on (I’m told he ‘goes into a trance’) and it felt like he just wanted to show off his entire instrument collection one after the other, with wails or SCHOOO! noises in between. I found myself thinking ‘How much longer?’. The visions would still pop up, but the cramp in my back and buttocks kept bringing me back down to Earth.
Damon the Shaman didn’t seem to care or notice that he’d gone past his allotted hour of time. He was in his own world, loping round the room with one strange twangy jingly bangy instrument after another. This went on for another whole hour, with me getting to the stage where I had to wait for him/his sounds to move to the other side of the room, peek out one eye in the darkness to see if he was looking at me and check my watch slyly. Even in the darkness, even with the noise, I could sense the discomfort of the other people on the mats and our collective subtle shuffling. The shuffling of people whose arse cheeks have now gone to sleep but are all far too ‘British’ to interrupt the performance or say anything. Even the lady from Brazil was far too British about it.
After two hours laying in one position getting increasingly crampy, it was the most enormous relief when Damon gave us permission to sit up and end the session with him. To close the session, he said it was very important that we each took a turn to come and stand inside his biggest singing bowl while he bonged it and the sound reverberated through our whole being. One by one the people came and stood. But the ladies on the other side of the room both seemed hesitant. Damon said ‘now you’ but the dark haired lady kept saying ‘No, it’s fine, you go’, to the lady beside her. As Damon became more insistent, she had to blurt out – ‘I’m sorry but I need to do a wee.’ I spoke to her later…she had been holding it in, in agonisingly polite British silence, for 45 minutes longing for him to stop. The lady made a swift run for the door, and suddenly it was my turn. I felt quite nervous. I can’t explain why. The intensity of Damon the Shaman put me on edge. The unexplained experience I’d had was a bit overwhelming. Whatever it was, he sensed it. And he took my hands and waggled them lightly and just said ‘Relax’ and smiled at me. And with that smile I wasn’t scared of him any more..or his giant bowl. How I wish he’d started the session with that smile, a bit of laughter. I don’t work well with dark and brooding – smiling Damon the Shaman seemed so much nicer. Anyway, I took his hands, stood in the magic bowl, and he BONGGGGED away around my ankles. At this point I realised that I too desperately needed a wee…and the vibrations that were climbing up from the soles of my feet, my ankles, my calves, my shins and knees, my thighs……..oh crikey! CLENCH CLENCH CLENCH I commanded my bladder as it felt like someone had stuck an electric toothbrush on it. You will be pleased to hear that I managed not to use his magic singing ringing bowl as a potty.
Oh…and I found out today…..his name was Kevin.