Free your mind

Gong Bath Redux

Gong star Don Conreaux led the gong bath at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, 780 Del Monte Lane.

Gong star Don Conreaux led the gong bath at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, 780 Del Monte Lane.

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

If it doesn’t make me sound too arrogant, I’d like to restate a little wisdom I’ve come to believe: As soon as a person says he or she understands something, that person closes his or her mind to further understanding.

It’s a journalistic pitfall, and media consumers see it in every public issue from how dogs are caught to how recalcitrant senators’ votes are bought. The future is unknowable and unstateable, but journalists often forget this fact.

Last week, I wrote about a gong bath that was to take place at the Unitarian Universalist Church. My reason was sound: If I waited until this week to write about it, it would be over, and people who wanted to attend might miss it. That belief was born out as the couple who were matted next to Hunter and me at the gong bath read about it in this paper and went because of the story, thinking it would be something cool to do on the lady’s birthday.

It was. Cool, that is. But after having done some research and conducting an interview on the topic, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I understood. But, as cool as it was, it was utterly unlike what I expected.

For one, while I knew it was part of a winter solstice celebration, I had no idea it was part of a pagan ritual. After the invocation by the Unitarian Universalist pastor, Rev. Neal Anderson, the group joined hands in a circle, and a pagan priestess led a prayer calling to the four points on the compass. Not a problem for me, but I thought some visitors who weren’t warned by my previous column might have issues. The two gongmasters then spoke about what was going to happen and said prayers, while those of us who came prepared with mats, pillows and blankets assumed comfortable positions. The lights were lowered, and the noise began.

After writing a whole column talking about the known benefits of audio-therapy, and positing that the gong bath would happen while we 75 participants were in a meditative state, I expected a mellow, contemplative experience. I expected long, tidal tolls on the gongs that would enhance the depth of my meditation. In retrospect, I think my Western mind expected some, “OK, this is a gong tone that works to vibrate the organs in a healthful way; here’s another tone that will salve another organ.” Scientific and plotted.

But what I got was cacophony, seemingly random sounds that were utterly unconducive to meditation.

For one, it was not just gongs, but a variety of instruments and body-made sounds. It was bells and horns and howls and tinkles. For the first five-10 minutes there was this sound, I’m not sure if it was real or out of my head, of crowds of people whispering below the threshold of comprehension. It reminded me of that Nicole Kidman movie The Others.

The bath was surreal. Primal. And for all the dissonance, every once in a while, while I lay there wondering just what the hell I was doing and what might be going through Hunter’s mind as he flicked the edge of his Thermarest, a gong would toll a wavelength that was perfectly attuned to my body, and my whole being would resonate with the sound. Or it would be a bell or a horn that would play me.

As I say, totally cool, but unlike anything I expected or have experienced. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that despite my preconceptions, I learned a little something about myself in that sanctuary. I’d hazard to say the next time a gong bath opportunity comes around Reno, people who go in with an open mind may learn a little something about themselves, too.