Over the years, working with sound has brought me great insights into myself. That insight was then transmitted through every other facet of my life. It is all reflections of myself. Which is seen more and more over time. Not only is it seen more, but it is recognized as such. There is no more mystery or magic, for you live within the space at all times.
Within the world of sound, ones personal approach to the practice and how the practice is presented create the individual experience they wish to offer. This is clearly a reflection of the person themselves and where they are in their current life. From the instruments they use and their tunings, to the way they speak, and even to a point the way they dress. In almost every facet of society and life, there is a look which presents material or work. So then, the person and how their work is presented is a reflection of whom they are and their personal state of being. Oddly, all humans innately judge a book by its cover if that which is presented to them is different from the expectation they are expecting.
I have had many gong teachers over the years and there are two which are considered our modern masters. I will leave their names out, for that actually is not the topic. But their approach reflects within their students and how gong is presented to the masses. Please keep in mind, this is a brief intro. The first teacher has been gonging for over 50 years…an old hippie with a background in theater. In this, there is a visual element which is important to the practice. This can be seen as multiple gongs, masks, and other theatrical pieces which evoke a performance. The other teacher is a practicing Buddhist who focuses on one gong and minimal pieces. Ultimately pressing sounds as movements of chi and energy. They are two vastly different approaches to the practice. In some ways it is more is more or less is more. Both approaches are valid.
Over the years I have acquired over 11 gongs, more than is needed. And now I am getting rid of most of them. For at any given point, you are only playing one gong and creating one sound. Yes, one could strike two gongs at the same time…but it is still creating one tone. So my practice now is focused on simplicity and what we can extract from nothingness. We must ask ourselves, how much of this is a distraction…how much is a spectacle? More so, is the work a presentation of self or a projection of how you wish to be received? What does have eleven gongs say about me? What does having one gong say? Neither answer is wrong, but as I developed myself and work more and more on my craft I have come to understand people are having a stronger and deeper experience as I present myself as less. A spectacle creates an expectation, and if that expectation is not met we are found laying in disappointment for the expectation and the reality did not match up.
But when presented as less, and minimal, we see something vastly different. We don’t see “low” expectation, but rather no expectation. This is how a space should be entered. It should be seen as clean and undisturbed. The setting should be beautiful and well kept, but not anything which creates an expectation which cannot be met. As the presenter, the most important part is to show up as yourself, someone off the streets who is just like anyone else in the space. For that is who we are deep down, but we often create a persona to match the work. Ultimately putting on a mask to take it off again when the experience is complete.
In high school I was an anarchist, writing articles and papers on Ché Guevara and Emiliano Zapata’s EZLN liberation front. The idea of authority and being told what to do by anyone always lit a fire within my soul. For I understood I was part of a story I didn’t want to be and that needed to change. So I created a job for myself as an adult and no longer work for anyone. Yet, at some point when I found community I once again found myself listening to someone telling me what to think and what to do. It was only when I found Kundalini Yoga, that I understood teachers are not authority, but rather guides. This is something I could look towards and listen to, for the greatest teachers are suffering humans just like everyone else. But the ability to transcend the suffering thorough devotion was, and still is, an admirable quality we can all witness and integrate.
There has never been a better time to be yourself. Rules are meant to be broken. We often break free from the matrix by creating something new, but often find ourselves within the same confines…which I did. There are no rules in sound and those whom take the greatest risks will keep the benefits of greater experience. Some things will work, some won’t, but we only know this when we break the rules we have been given. Working with sound and experimenting. And here is the kicker….you ready?
Then more I integrate the parts of myself I left behind, the greater experience I can give to others. I was at one point a satanist (I know, right) that played in black metal bands. I even have an upside down cross tattooed on my right arm…I was thick into it. As years passed, I became less enveloped with the ideology and found myself in the grace of divine light and the love of God. It was quite a journey. But yet, saying that that part of my journey is something I should disregard is a defamation to the divine itself. For that was my journey to God, it was always meant to be that way. If I present myself as a pious soul and neglect where I came from, then what’s the point in helping people? I was many things I have moved away from now…but the journey is the healing. Culturally, stories present more lessons than that which is presented. In other words, how I have become who I am is more valuable the who I am. For “who I am” is constantly changing. I thank God he showed me Satan, for within Satan I would have not found God.
I had a teacher once that at the end of a lecture said something that will forever be with me. The lesson I have actually had presented a couple times in life. He said, “For as long as I have been meditating, practicing, and teaching, I am still the exact same person I was before, I haven’t changed.” We try to distance ourselves from who we are by adopting ideologies and the community held within them. I thought, well…what’s the point? I don’t want to be that person anymore. But you cannot escape your path and what brings you to the moment. The thing that is promised to you in life is the breath you have any this moment. So neglecting any breath neglects your personal journey. In so much, honoring the parts of yourself which you wish to leave behind neglects where you are at the moment. You are a fucking badass, a master of fate holding more potential than you give yourself credit for. Embrace every part of yourself and this parts of yourself which you neglect and leave behind will become the greatest fuel for transformation. We are given these moments to grow. With great growth comes great loss. Becoming more, is becoming less. That which you leave behind and neglect will be nothing more than subconscious shame.
The presenter…the facilitator, is more power than any instrument used. The more we bring into the space, the more we distance ourselves from the simplicity of the experience. So we enter spaces with enthusiasm, which is a great quality. Yet, we are always feeling we to expand our set and add more instruments. I can honestly say, if you are bored with an instrument or a practice, you should get rid of it. It was never meant to be. Each instrument should be a bottomless pit of intrigue and curiosity helmed deep with the soulful understanding that inquisitiveness forgoes rationality. For the intrigue of an instrument as deep soulful connection is not something one can become bored with. When you build a set with instruments off deep experience, you no longer have time or space for the instruments that are airy and allow the mind to float into nothingness. So we cut away everything that doesn’t offer an experience that is worth offering. I truly believe that practitioners should only use instruments and tools which brought them to great understanding and truth. Anything else is clutter.
In essence, this article is less about sound instruments and more about how we project ourselves and how that projection is received. Are we creating a spectacle or offering a true experience? The tools are an extension of the self, nothing more…and the most important tool in the kit is the self. Nothing can heal better than you. No gong, no singing bowl or tuning fork can heal better than a smile to stranger or a hug when it is needed. We need not confuse what is actually doing the healing. Humans heal…instruments assist.