Sound Immersion Meditation

I have never been good at meditation. I have tried it on a few occasions, but I have struggled to steady my mind for more than a moment or two. As soon as I calm my brain it starts making lists of all the things I have to do later, regretting that thing I said to someone 8 years ago, or contemplating what dark matter is actually made of. All things that of course must be resolved immediately.

The only time I’ve actually enjoyed meditation was when I spent 10 minutes overlooking the canyons of Malibu after climbing to the top of a waterfall last week. The serenity of the sound of the falling water against the beautiful backdrop made it easy to let go of everything.

Although I have struggled with meditation in the past, this project is as much about pushing myself to do things that make me uncomfortable as it is about doing things that are exciting.

I was intrigued when I first saw a post advertising sound immersion mediation. The session was held at The Hot Room Yoga and Wellness Studio and was hosted by Massood Taj and Robin Barnes. The description of the event read:

“As the sounds of singing bowls, frame drums, native flutes, gongs, vocal overtoning and other sacred instruments wash over you. It invites you to move into a deep meditative state. Cellular vibrations can unlock unhealthy, stuck emotional tension held within our cellular memory, boost your immune system & cultivate a heightened awareness of your inner world and intuition.”

Here is an example of what it sounded like:

Massood and Robin had a multitude of instruments laid out on blankets surrounded by salt lamps and rope lights, which provided great mood lighting in the dark. They used water drums (a bowl is placed upside down in a larger water-filled bowl and then stuck for a percussive sound), frame drumsTibetan signing bowls, crystal singing bowls, a handpan, energy chimes, a wooden bamboo flute thingy (that was made with bamboo that grows naturally in Tennessee), a Quena (Peruvian wood flute), an african talking drum, a kalimba, and an array of other fascinating instruments.  A nice summer storm added to the soundscape.

The best way to describe it was that it felt like I was being treated to a live version of the music they play while you get a massage. It was extremely relaxing.

I was just as unsuccessful at clearing my mind as my previous meditation attempts, but I did have a few moments of zen when I pictured my view from my Dominican rainforest tree house. The music was beautiful and I loved the experience. If I ever hit the Powerball I plan to hire Massood and Robin to provide the soundtrack to my life.

Sweat Lodge Ceremony

I few weeks ago I returned to the Golden Wings Center for a sweat lodge ceremony. After glass walking and fire walking there, experiencing a sweat lodge was obviously the next logical step.

According to Angela and Justin, the wonderful owners of Golden Wings: “The sweat lodge is a Native American purification ceremony. The Spirit can pick up some ‘rust’ along the way with the experiences of physical life. This rust is all the beliefs we carry that keep us in fear and judgments. The sweat lodge (Inipi) is symbolic of the womb. By returning to the womb, we leave each lodge with the opportunity to begin life anew. In this sacred experience, we are purified and cleansed. The focus is towards the future: once we let go of that which no longer serves us, we can begin to enjoy the blessings and new beginnings ahead of us.”

The sweat lodge was made of a round wooden frame approximately 10 feet in diameter and was draped with dozens of blankets. In the center of the lodge was a circular pit dug for the hot stones. Outside of the lodge was the alter and ceremonial fire (which was heating the stones).

Sweat Lodge Fire

There were about 25 of us in the tiny little lodge; it was very close quarters. We either sat on towels or directly the ground. I elected for a towel, despite being advised that the dirt would be cooler. I’m just not that earthy. The steam ended up making things quite muddy so I think I made the right decision. Once everyone piled in, 7 glowing red hot stones were placed in the pit. A prayer was said and they closed the flap on the front of the lodge so it was pitch black on the inside. I was not expecting this. The darkness made me really uncomfortable. It was disorienting and I felt out of control.

Inside Sweat Lodge

Once the water started being poured over the rocks the heat became oppressive. I was expecting something like a sauna or hot yoga (which I love), but instead it was like being hit by a train and the humidity made breathing difficult. I was shocked at just how quickly sweat began to pour down my face. I spent most of my time sitting there telling myself that it would be over shortly and that my inability to breath was just in my head. I longed for fresh air. Fortunately, we were only in there for a few minutes. We were in there long enough for some prayers and a song and then, happily, the door was opened allowing some of the heat to dissipate. Some people stayed inside during the break. I, however, chose to get out and stretch my legs and enjoy, what felt by comparison, a very cool 90-degree day.

We then piled back in for round two. This time 7 more rocks were added to the pit and the flap was shut again. I didn’t think it could get any hotter in there, but it did. This time when the water was poured and the steam started to rise it felt a bit like I was drowning. No matter whether I took deep or shallow breaths, I felt like I was under water. Finally, when I just couldn’t sit there an longer, I shouted “door!” This was the signal for them to let me out. I wasn’t panicked or afraid to stay in there, I’d just sat in there long enough to realize that it wasn’t for me.

Sweat Lodge Structure

Some people talk about being “called” to do certain activities. Something just speaks to them and says “today you should walk on fire” or “today you should take part in a sweat lodge ceremony.” Well, that day I definitely felt called to go sit in a refreshing cold creek bed rather than sit inside of a pitch black sweat lodge. One of the things I love most about Golden Wings is that it is isolated from outside world and I can spend a few hours technology free. There was something very peaceful about spending a Sunday afternoon with nature.

Creek Bed

I can definitely say that the sweat lodge is not for me. I’m glad I tried it and got to have the experience, but it wasn’t spiritual for me the way it is for many others. That said, I can’t wait to back and attend more events with my Golden Wings family because it is definitely my favorite place to keep trying new things.

Fire Walking

A few weeks ago I visited the Golden Wings Center for my first glass walk. It was an empowering and inspiring experience. When I had the chance to return for a fire walk, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

In my previous post I mentioned that the Golden Wings Center was a bit secluded and required traversing a one-lane dirt road to get there. This time I followed my GPS, rather than their directions, and in doing so I took a wrong turn that took me even farther out into the middle of nowhere. I was still heading toward the Center, I was just going the back way and driving several extra miles down same the scary one-lane dirt road.

Drive Over Creek

At one point I reached a flowing creek that covered my path. I was concerned about the depth and backed up. A toothless man with 5 cats was sitting on the porch of a nearby house. I asked for directions and he said that the Center was just on the other site of the creeks. Yes, apparently I had to drive over more than one. He assured me that the water wasn’t too deep and he thought I could make it. I should note that my car is very small and not designed to ford creeks like in the Oregon Trail. But, I’ve learned that country boys know what they are talking about and will not lead you astray. So, I went for it. I put the pedal to the metal and made it across the creek! I was so excited when I go to the other side that I shouted “I did it! I did it! I did it!” even though nobody was around to hear it. I was thrilled when I finally saw the Golden Wings Center sign.

Golden Wings Center

There were a lot of familiar faces there for the fire walk and it was really wonderful to see everyone I met at the glass walk. We started out in the yurt and talked about what we wanted to get out of this experience and what we wanted to let go of. There is a great deal of meditation and sharing at the Center, which is why it feels like you are part of a big family.

Firewood

We went out to light the fire before sunset. The stack of firewood was huge. It was made of cedar and stacked so it would burn properly for the walk.

Lighting the Fire

We used candles to help light the fire. But it didn’t seem to need much help, within a few minutes the wood was completely engulfed.

Fire Burning

The fire was gorgeous and the flames leapt at least 15 feet in the air.

Fire Burning 2

After we lit the fire, we went back into the yurt to talk. We paired off with a stranger to talk about our deepest secrets and fears. The purpose of was to release any negativity we were holding onto before the walk. Discussing your inner thoughts and fears with a stranger might sound intimidating, but the older you get the more you realize that you aren’t alone in your experiences and there are a surprising number of people who have been through the same things.

We followed our talks with an arrow breaking ceremony . . . but that is a story I’ll share with you another day.

Fire Walk

Fire walking has been around for over 3000 years. It has been used as a rite of passage, a spiritual ritual, and a test of courage. And yes, it is hot. It’s fire. It was a very festive atmosphere with a lot of singing, dancing, and cheering.

I made 3 passes over the coals. I burned myself once, but it was pretty minor. My foot hurt on my drive home, but it felt much better by the following day. I preferred my glass walking experience to fire walking because I enjoyed the quite meditative aspects of the glass walk. However, that said, I am really looking forward to to doing another fire walk.

Golden Wings Fire

The Golden Wings Center has a wide variety of wonderful events. I already have plans to return in the coming weeks, so you’ll hear more about it soon.

Walking on Broken Glass

It’s been a while since I’ve done something adventurous and it has made me a little stir crazy. Moreover, after posting about bingo last week, I felt a need to counter it with something that was actually interesting. I first heard about glass walking while looking for places to walk on hot coals. Unsurprisingly, you can do it at the same place.

I went to the Golden Wings Center in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. If nowhere had a middle, it would be in Bon Aqua. There was no cell service (which was actually quite nice) and part of the drive included a one-lane dirt road. The Golden Wings Center is a 30-acre retreat that has fire walks, glass walks, a sweat lodge, and a plethora of other activities and features. You can even spend the night there.

The glass walking ceremony was held in a yurt, a circular tent-like structure. When we first walked in, the bed of glass was in the center of the floor and covered with a blanket. I could not see what lied beneath, but I could see the peaks and valleys of glass shards several inches deep. It was a little intimidating.

We started with a guided meditation practice, which I am inherently bad at. I don’t possess the ability to turn off my mind. I usually don’t even bother to try. Then came the big reveal. The blanket was pulled back unveiling the remnants of 125 broken wine bottles.

Broken Glass

Each person had two people by their side for support. When it was my turn I asked Angela and Justin, the owners of the Golden Wings Center and all-around awesome people, to guide me. I placed my hands on their forearms, closed my eyes, and took my first step. I shifted my left foot until it felt comfortable on the glass. I made sure no shards were pressing directly into my foot and shifted my weight onto it. I lifted my right foot and again tried to find a comfortable spot in the glass that would support my weight. The second step was scarier because it meant that I was solely supported by the glass.

Walking on Broken Glass

With each step I could hear the glass popping and feel it breaking beneath my feet. It was a bit unnerving. I decided to do the walk with my eyes closed because I wanted to be completely in the moment and only focus on what I was doing. I’ve had a lifetime of my brain telling me that walking on glass is a bad idea, by closing my eyes I was able to shut that out and rely on what I was feeling and trust myself and my decisions.

Feet on Broken Glass

Believe it or not, I made it the entire way without a single cut. I am really glad I did the glass walk. It was a very empowering experience. I am looking forward to returning to the Golden Wings Center soon for fire walking and the sweat lodge . . . stay tuned.

I’ll leave you with a song that has been stuck in my head all week. It has nothing to do with my glass walking experience, but you can’t go wrong with Annie Lenox.

90 Minutes in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

When I first heard about float tanks I thought it just sounded like a relaxing thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. However, once I started reading more about it I realized that it would be an unique experience.

A float tank is essentially an isolation or sensory depravation tank. All sound and light is completely omitted and you have no concept of the passage of time. The tank is filled with approximately 1000 lbs of water and epsom salt. The density of the salt water allows you to float above the water without touching the tank, a bit like the Dead Sea. The water and air temperature are the same as your body temperature so you cannot perceive where your body ends and your surroundings begin.

This weekend I went to Nashville Float & Massage to submerge myself in the darkness for 90 minutes. When I got there I had a private room with a shower and a Tardis-like float tank. It’s bigger on the inside. I took a shower, turned off the lights, and then hopped in the tank and shut the door behind me.

Float Tank

This is what it looked like once I got inside and shut the door:

Inside Float Tank

There was about a foot of water in the tank. I didn’t expect that to be enough to keep me afloat (I usually sink like a stone), but it was. The tank was surprisingly roomy. I was able to fully reach my arms above my head to stretch my neck and back without touching the sides of the tank. The water felt thick and viscous and clung to my skin. I was expecting to be cold in there, but the air and water were just the right temperature to keep me happy.

My brain spent some time trying to make sense of where I was. I had no sensory cues about my surroundings. There was no light and the only sounds were my breath and heartbeat. It felt like I was floating in circles, but I knew that couldn’t be the case.

The salt water lets you float with the feeling of 85-90% of gravity removed. You are lying there completely unsupported. At first, my neck and back hurt (as they often do), but after a while everything started to loosen up and relax.

Float OnIt was nice to have 90 minutes to escape from the world. No phone. No internet. No emails. No stress. While I wasn’t able to completely turn off my brain, I was able to work through a few things that had been on my mind and bothering me. Granted, you can work through life’s problems at any time . . .  but how often do we really give ourselves that time? Float tanks reportedly have a variety of health benefits, but the most interesting effect is that it apparently can alter your brain waves. In fact, many people use float tanks as a form of meditation.

When my time was up, I got out of the tank and showered to get all of the salt off of me. It took a few tries to get all of the salt out of my hair. Afterwards, I felt completely relaxed and euphoric. I spent some time chatting with Mark and Amy (the owners) and sipping delicious cinnamon tea. Once I got home I passed out and took a lovely mid-day nap. (I had the same reaction to my first time doing acupuncture and fire cupping).

If you have one in your area, I definitely recommend giving a float tank a try.

Chakra Cleansing & Reiki

Chakra Cleansing
As I was looking for something new to try this week I came across free Chakra Cleansing and Reiki at the Center of Symmetry. I’d heard of it before, but I didn’t know much about it. I never want to make a judgment about something before trying it, so I thought I would give it a shot.

ChakrasChakra is Sanskrit for “wheel” or “turning” and they are are points in the human body that are centers of life force or energy. Apparently, this energy can actually be detected by something called a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device. There are seven major chakras in a human body: the root chakra, sacral chakra, solar plexus chakra, heart chakra, throat chakra, third eye chakra, and the crown chakra. Some believe that the chakras can affect a person’s physical and mental health.

The group was led by Dan Craft and Becki Baumgartner. There were about a dozen people present to attend the class, the majority of which were trying it for the first time. Dan and Becki started by having you lay down on a massage table and relax. First, Becki held a chakra pendulum over you. The one she used looked like it was made of rose quartz, which apparently is used for understanding emotions, love, and emotional healing. If she held the pendulum over your chakra and it was still, that meant the chakra was closed, if the pendulum spun (preferably clockwise) it meant the chakra was open. If the chakra was closed, Becki would spin a clear feng shui ball over you (which looked like a tiny disco ball) until the chakra opened. She explained that the way the ball reflected light had something to do with how it worked.

When it was my turn, I laid down and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see what was going on because I didn’t want it to alter my perception of what was going on. Some people said they could feel where Becki was holding the pendulum, but I could not. When she held the pendulum over me, she said that I was already incredibly open, apparently it was spinning like crazy. She asked if I did yoga (which I do), and said that yoga was really good for opening the chakras.

Reiki
Once our chakras were open it was time for Reiki. Reiki means “universal energy” and is the art of healing through touch and the adjustment of life force energy flow. Studies have shown that Reiki can lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and lessen anxiety.

Because there were so many first timers there, they gave us short sessions to try to fit everyone in. Dan cradled our heads in his hands while Becki placed her hands on our chests; everyone else formed a circle around the table and placed their hands on our arms and legs. I laid there for a few minutes doing a breathing exercise with everyone’s hands on me. After a few moments I started seeing vibrant hues of green and purple like a kaleidoscope on the inside of my eyelids. I can’t really explain it, seeing swirling colors isn’t something I normally experience when I close my eyes and when I closed my eyes in the same room at other points in the evening all I saw was darkness. When my session was over I felt incredibly dizzy and I took me a few moments to regain my balance. It seemed like about half of us experienced the same dizziness.

I can’t really say what I believe yet, it’s too soon to tell. However, I will say that I felt incredibly relaxed and peaceful after the session. If Chakra Cleansing or Reiki is something that interests you, then it is definitely worth giving it a shot. If nothing else, you’ll spend an hour learning something new . . . and that is never a bad thing.

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