Good vibrations awaken Del Hughes’ inner stag
If you’ve read any of my past articles, you’ll already know that I’m currently undertaking a ‘DIY enrichment program’, with the aim being to usher a little fun and adventure into my, somewhat, lacklustre life.
I’ve been going way outside my comfort zone, have tried a variety of new, and oftentimes strange, activities and I’ve met lots of interesting people along the way.
So far, my highlights have been: an hour in a sensory deprivation float tank, a session with a ‘famous’ psychic, a witchy midnight ritual at Arthur’s Stone on Gower and an evening spent playing charades at the local Women’s Institute (don’t ask).
But the #1 spot, and by some margin, was the opportunity to meet my favourite owl.
But this experience comes nowhere near my top five.
And, despite my promise to try everything with an open mind, I think I knew, even before setting foot inside the venue – a bleak architectural fusion of ‘80s student halls meets sheltered housing – that this probably wasn’t going to be my cup of chamomile tea.
The class had been recommended to me by Si, a long-standing devotee, who I’d actually met at the float centre. He’d raved about it, advised me to book well in advance because ‘It’s very popular and spaces for newbies are limited.’ And he assured me I was, ‘. . . gonna love it!’
Hmm. I confess I was intrigued so, when the next available date popped up on Facebook, I messaged Grace, the instructor, and prepared for my first ever Gong Bath.
Gong Baths are a type of meditation where you ‘bathe’ in sound vibrations.
This ‘healing practice’ has many beneficial effects according to Si, including, ‘a deep trance-like tranquility, pain relief and emotional release.’
It was definitely worth a shot.
But, given that I was there on a quest for serenity and relaxation, I wouldn’t say I got off to the best start.
Initially there was quite a bit of queuing, which I find difficult at the best of times. The line was barely moving and after ten minutes of propping against a table whilst juggling two orthopaedic pillows and a walking stick, my back began spasming in sympathy with an incipient migraine, wholly caused by the heavy scent of incense that was smouldering in reception.
Surely it shouldn’t take this long for forty of us to file in?
Oh yeah, it does!
Eventually reaching the threshold of the ‘sacred space’, all became alarmingly clear.
Grace wasn’t just there to welcome us in with a wide, friendly smile.
Nope. . . before we could take even one step into the large hall, whose parquet floor was carpeted with neatly arranged rows of yoga mats and blankets, there was a three-phase ‘cleansing ritual’ to be endured. Sigh.
First came the ‘Venus Spray, in honour of the Goddess’, which Grace liberally squirted around my head and shoulders. It smelt of lavender and jasmine – a blessed relief from the pungent patchouli – and would help with the removal of impurities from my, apparently, ‘muddy’ aura. Hmm.
Next Grace whipped out, what I can only describe as, a sort of wafting stick.
Two foot long and topped with a clutch of feathers, it rattled loudly as she fanned away whatever pollutants had been squatting in my ‘energy field’. And, to be fair, I did feel the impact of it – but only insomuch as I needed to curb the chuckles of discomfit that were threatening. Maybe that was the ‘emotional release’ Si had been talking about?
Then Grace unveiled the pièce de résistance, theatrically whipping a red silk cloth off a low table to reveal a deck of ‘Goddess Oracle Cards’; I just needed to ‘pick one that calls to you.’
Now, I’m always up for card tricks and some sleight of hand, but this was a bit much.
Still, I listened hard but none whispered to me, so I just grabbed the nearest and turned it over. Grace exhaled sharply. ‘Ooh, now that’s an interesting one. Elen of the Ways. . .’
And? C’mon Grace, I might not be fully invested in this oracle stuff but it’d be nice to know if Goddess Elen is good or bad?
Of course, I had to ask, and after a pregnant pause, she said, ‘Well. . . we all have damaging patterns and habits that we need to break.’
Lol! I could feel the gurgle of more giggles growing so I moved away and bagsied a spot in the rear corner of the room, where I could do my ‘bathing’ in relative privacy.
It was rather like being at a grown-up sleepover – but a nightmarish one where you don’t know anybody, and there’s no alcohol; everyone was stretched out on yoga mats (which did little to soften the unforgiving flooring), some with blankets pulled up to their chins, others wrapped in duvets.
As Grace worked her cleansing magic on the stragglers, I assumed the foetal position, arranged my pillows until I was (semi)comfortable, before swathing myself in the provided fleece blankie.
I was snug, settled and ready for ninety minutes of idyllic inaction.
Unfortunately, the gong bath, just like admittance, also had a three-phase plan – Phase One being a lecture on the purpose, and origins, of Goddess Cards.
Long, long story short: Women have been forced to hide their true, ‘divine’ natures for centuries. Men are to blame. Celebrations of ‘the Goddess’ used to be held on Friday 13th but wouldn’t you know it, bloody men ruined this too, by choosing to burn witches (aka ‘true women’) on this same date. Men are basically knobheads. The end.
I wasn’t 100% convinced of the accuracy of Grace’s homily, and I wasn’t sure how well her anti-patriarchal starter was received – mainly because I could only see the back of most people’s heads. But the young man laying just two feet from me widened his eyes before rolling over and pulling his duvet a little tighter.
Phase Two, and we’re into a torment of titanic proportions – this isn’t just mantra chanting, this is ancient Sanskrit mantra chanting!
Now, personally, I think it’s a bit unfair to expect first timers to remember all the ‘words’ without advance warning, or more helpfully, a phonetic crib sheet, but I gave it a good go since it was meant to loosen our throats and ‘unmuzzle’ us.
After a few minutes of ragged chanting – which proved I wasn’t the only one that was struggling and sounded as soothing as a dentist’s drill – I managed a few reps of ‘Ohm granny pooh knee bum ohm bam ham pooh’ before I retired behind my blanket and waited for signs that it had worked.
Grace said that might be coughing (meh), rumbling stomachs (meh) or, if we were lucky, ‘you’ll feel something building deep within, that will eventually free itself through your unbound throat.’
What? No! Oh no! NO!
Let me explain. A few months ago, during my first float tank session, I repeatedly experienced what I was reliably informed were ‘mini-purges’, where the body, automatically, expels toxins.
My toxin expulsion manifested as the deafening, uncontrollable roaring of rutting stags, and was embarrassing enough in isolation. But if it was to happen here, tonight, and in front of all these people. . . !
Good Goddess, it didn’t bear thinking about – so then, obviously, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and my stress levels started surging. I needed out of there, pronto.
But, just as I was about to sneak off – as unobtrusively as an overweight woman with a walking cane in a silent room can – Grace instigated Phase Three (dammit!) and we got down to some full-on, big gong action.
Initially, the sound was muted, almost like the noise you get when you run a wet finger around the rim of a glass. Not unpleasant, but not calming either. I could feel the slightest of tremors through the floor which was actually quite pleasant but, after ten minutes, it wasn’t floating my boat.
The people I could see seemed truly out of it, breathing deeply, eyes closed, totally at one with the gong, but the impact of those good vibrations was passing me by.
The guy next to me started snoring.
Then Grace branched out, adding in an occasional jangle of seashells or plinky-plonky wind chimes, which I found quite jarring.
In fact, it seemed that, whenever I felt my eyelids droop and I was, maybe, on the brink of blissing out, there’d be a series of shrill chings, or a sharp clank and I’d be wide awake and back in the room.
As Grace threw herself into even wilder, percussive multi-tasking, playing instruments with all the energy and abandon of Animal in The Muppet Show, I gave up.
Frankly, it seemed paradoxical that I was having to force myself to relax.
Plus, it’s pretty difficult when your arse is numb, your legs won’t stop twitching and you’re suddenly desperate for a pee (the fault of that sodding waterfall shaker I’ll wager!)
It was ridiculous, and the absurdity of the situation hit me, hard.
We’ve all been there. Something tickles you and no matter how much you try, there’s just no suppressing the hilarity. I buried my face in the blanket, but my whole body was trembling with ill-concealed mirth, and my snorting garnered irritable shushes from my supine neighbours.
Grace shot me an assessing glance but continued with her singing-ringing bowls.
As the last vibration gave way to absolute silence, people began yawning, stretching and rubbing their eyes, as if waking from a really restful sleep.
Grace said to take our time getting up and, if we wanted, she’d come around with a book that explained the meanings of our cards.
According to Goddess Elen, the three aspects I should focus on are:
1 I need to embrace new things. Well, I’ve already started but it’s always nice to be ahead of the game.
2 I’ve got ‘destructive’ habits that I need to break. Okay Elen, but honestly, who hasn’t?
3 I need to jettison those things which are holding me back from attaining my full potential. Hmm, I think another moon ceremony could be on the cards soon. . .
As I was leaving, Grace stopped me to say how pleased she was that I’d exhibited such a ‘deep connection to the gongs’ because ‘I could see you vibrating from here.’ LOL!
I managed to keep it together, but the second I was in the car, I crumbled, and it took several minutes before I could explain, to a very bemused Tim, exactly why I was creased with laughter.
So, did I achieve tranquility?
Well no, but in all fairness that was down to me. I was so, genuinely, fearful of having a ‘stag’ outburst in public, I know I stopped myself from fully letting go.
Basically, I kept my ‘muzzle’ firmly in place throughout. And that’s why I think I’ve been a bit hard on Goddess Elen because self-sabotage is one of my habits which I could certainly do with breaking.
Did it help my pain? Nope. But again, that was my bad. Grace had asked if I’d be more comfortable sitting in a chair, but I’d insisted I wanted the full experience, yoga mats and all, so . . . them’s the breaks.
But though I found it a bit underwhelming, don’t let me put you off trying gong therapy for yourself. No, it didn’t do much for me, but the majority of people there did experience positive results.
As animated post-bath chatter filled the room, I heard reports of ‘mental lightness’, dreamy visions and perfect peacefulness and it seemed that most attendees left feeling refreshed, re-energised and wonderfully rejuvenated.
And, weirdly, it did feel surprisingly sociable, this gathering of strangers, cocooned and quiet, sharing an unorthodox hour. It was a bit like being back in infant school, when after lunch each day, we would troop to the hall for ‘sleepy time’.
So, all things considered, though gong therapy didn’t deliver in my search for serenity, it was certainly valuable in other ways, and I met some smashing individuals, which is another key aim of my life-enhancement plan.
We’ve already been for coffee and, next month, we’re off to a local Pagan Moot – yeah, I know, but I could really do with some expert help on that ritual I’m planning.
But, best of all, the lovely Grace has promised to give me lessons on controlling my inner stag and, if I can master that, I might just give sound bathing another try.
But first, I’d better just brush up on my Sanskrit.
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