I went to a sound healing event.  It was my first time; didn't know what to expect. I was skeptical.


    At the appointed time, seven of us showed up at a house south of Santa Fe, NM.  The sound healer was a nice guy, about 40, white, east coast, personable, welcoming.  His house, his look, mannerisms, everything about him said “hippie.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  After introductions, we were led into a living room with a dozen mats with pillows and blankets arranged in rows, and a battery of percussion at one end.


    The healer spoke for 5-10 minutes about himself and his work.  He implied that he had studied with indigenous teachers from several different traditions.  He said that he was going to take us on a shamanic journey, and recommended that we set intention to meditate upon.


    He also dipped our toes into the scientific background of what he does; he mentioned brain waves, specifically alpha and delta….  He was gonna entrain our brains to these frequencies with his music.  He didn’t explain how he was goin to entrain our brain waves.  I wondered if it would be through subliminal means.


    I’ve been interested in the phenomena of brain wave entrainment.  I don’t think I would use it, but I’m curious about such things. I decided to go to the man, the original brain wave entrainment composer, the grammy winner.  Stephen Halpern, in a Youtube video, describes how you entrain a person’s brain to the frequency of 8 Hz, which is approximately the Schumann Resonance.  The Schumann resonance is actually not about sound, but a different kind of vibration, but hey…


    First Halpern showed how easy it is to control a person’s heartbeat using a pulsing bass drum track.  (At a rave, they’ll entrain the crowd’s heartbeat collectively, at an elevated rate of around 90 up to maybe 120 bpm, using a loud thumping bass drum.)  Then he demonstrated brain wave entrainment.  He takes two signals from a tone generator that are 8 cycles different from each other, say 100 Hz and 108 Hz.  Play them in right and left channels, creating a difference wave of 8 Hz, and your brain will entrain with that frequency.  He showed readouts from an EEG...


    I’ve tried this in my studio.  Headache within the first minute. Upper GI feeling queasy.  Emotionally a bit anxious?  It could be because of the crudeness of the tone generator’s waveform.  It could be because 8 Hz is different from Schumann’s 7.83 Hz.  It could be because my brain revolts against this kind of manipulation.


    Halpern mixes in with the music—hiding it so that you don’t really hear it, aren’t aware of it.  It’s subliminal. The buzz is that you might inadvertently induce an epileptic fit this way…


    A concern is that people are dabbling in technologies like brain wave entrainment through artificial means, and with shamanistic medicines like Auyahuasca, without sufficient background to use them safely.  That’s one reason why alternate modalities like sound healing often get a bad rap.  But of course many scientists in many fields—medicine, nuclear physics, AI, and most notably psychiatrists who prescribe psychotropics like candy—behave very irresponsibly. In my opinion.


   Meanwhile, back at the sound healing:


    In his percussion battery, which he called the "mother ship," were spirit drums, many African and Latin instruments, and some impressively big gongs and crystal singing bowls, with microphones everywhere, and a PA system.


    He took his position in the mother ship, was silent for a few moments, and then it began.  He intoned a prayer in an African language—he’s got a good voice—accompanied by a cool sounding African instrument.


    Then he played a pulse on the spirit drum, a low tone at around 90 bpm.  I felt my heart moving to match it.  It was too loud for the ears, but I can see why he cranked it up.  He wanted us to feel it.  I put in ear plugs.


    He made a loop of the spirit drum pulse and started soloing over it, playing patterns with congas and other drums, percussion toys.  I tried not to think critically about his playing, i.e. is he just trying to show off his cleverness, technique, etc...? but just to experience this thing.


    He added elements to the loopmash, and kept soloing over the top. It gradually got louder, more dense and active.  Frenetic.


    When he added a low frequency gong sound, the musical stew he was concocting became quite discordant.


    Then he started hitting the singing bowls, tuned to frequencies that seemed random, and made a very strange sounding chord when they combined.  Plus, they were amplified through cheap-ish speakers, and loud enough to be piercing.


    I looked around at the others in the room.  Each one was dealing in their own way.  One woman was standing, dancing slightly, others were lolling on their mats or in the chairs that were offered to the infirm.  One woman was crying, wrestling with some demons maybe….


    I clamped my hands over my ears, but it was still painful…. I felt a growing uneasiness in my guts, but kept going with it, thinking that maybe this was intended.  In Ayahuasca and Peyote ceremonies, purging is an important part of the experience.  Sweat lodges are meant to be an ordeal that you emerge from transformed.


    I didn’t want to be disrespectful of the artist or to detract from the group’s healing experience, but I was done.  The door was ten feet away.  In three seconds I was outside in the beautiful summer evening again, whew.


    Driving away, taking stock of myself, I felt unsteady in my body, mind, and soul.  Once upon a less enlightened time I might have thought of going out for a drink.


    I had given it a chance, tried to keep a beginner mind, but my depth of commitment had proven too shallow to make it to the end. Had I stayed, would I have undergone a transformation?


®Andy Zadrozny 9/27/19

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I went to an event

“It’s like a massage, only deeper.”

                                --Kelly Clancy, founder, Northwest School of Structural Integrity

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