There Are No Mistakes: Lessons From A Singing Bowl

We really don’t give enough voice to our intuitive sense.

This was the first lesson taught to me by the singing bowl. Not without the help of the help of some teachers.

“Dude, you need to go to Bali.”

It was the beginning of May, on another day where the sun struggled to peak through the smog and haze. A struggle that would no doubt give in to another gritty, while bright, day. A new friend from Los Angeles and I were in the attic of an antique bowls shop. We were in Kathmandu.

“Bali is where you wanna go. I don’t know why you’re not there now.”

I had been in my own struggle, at odds with whether I stick to my original plan of returning to India from here—or going somewhere else. I hadn’t thought of Bali, but since I had a few good friends living there, and since I’d twice cancelled and repurchased a 30-hour bus ride back across the Indian border, it felt much closer in my mind than it appeared on a map. Why not?

I would end up purchasing a ticket to Bali five days in advance—a decision on the fly not unlike most others during that time for me. I wouldn’t leave before gaining some instruction on Tibetan singing bowl healing practices, and finding my own set as well.

My teacher only used old, antique singing bowls for healing and instruction purposes. These, he held, had healing powers that the newer bowls didn’t posses. “Those only make nice sounds for concerts,” he’d said. This didn’t bode well for the three newer bowls I already had in my luggage. The first of these bowls was purchased a few months earlier in South India. I’d spent over an hour in a Kashmiri man’s small shop, listening intently to the twenty or so bowls he had in stock. Only one bowl gave me any kind of impression, albeit a pronouncedly special one. I bought the handmade bowl, and later I’d call it my “First Love.” For a couple months it would be my only love. In Mysore, I played it to relax my massage clients after a session, and also to relax myself each night as I lay in bed. I’d place the bowl on my chest, and strike it with a felt mallet. The rich, ethereal sound would ring out for over a minute, buzzing through my rib cage and permeating the rest of my bones, tissues and organs. I’d ring it twice more in this way, as my breathing would soften and slow its rhythm. Then, I’d take the bowl off my chest and place it behind my head, striking it three more times over the next five minutes or so. Sleep would come on soon afterwards. Within the first week of drifting off to sleep with my “First love,” I’d find myself waking each morning nearly snuggling with the bowl and mallet beside me; I was launching into dreamland within one minute after the very first strike of the bowl on my body.

I showed my single bowl to a local sound healer who owns a vast collection of bowls. He picked it up and played it for a while, and looked up into the distance behind me, as though gazing into distant intimate worlds the sound retreated to. “Healing bowl,” he said, as he nodded is head with calm certitude.

Later, in central Nepal, I’d find a second bowl that my “First” really appreciated. When I played them together, they fused into a harmony, their sounds trailing off at the same pace into silence. ‘I’m slowly finding my collection,’ I thought.

Not so long after, doubt crept in. After learning techniques with my teacher in Kathmandu, I’d felt a bit anxious. By this time, I’d made three separate purchases of singing bowls, guided each time by the only thing I could trust in this new place, with its array of mysterious, misleading tourist shops—my feeling. In total, I had five bowls. Three of them were antique, but according to the techniques I’d just learned, they weren’t the right ‘pitch.’ As you might imagine, I was feeling like I’d made a hasty mistake. I set them all out between me and my teacher, as we sat above his shop. He played and inspected them rather detachedly, and plainly told me that my current set wouldn’t suit so well for healing. A heaviness came over me—a visceral weight as I contemplated owning such heavy things that couldn’t be easily returned to the dealers or carried in my luggage. ‘What will I do?’

In my remaining time in Nepal, I kept with my original pursuit of finding singing bowls that would bring healing for people. After all, this was why I’d extended my stay in the country. And searching with my L.A. friend was rewarding and entertaining, even on days we spent listening to nearly a hundred bowls in several shops, retiring at the end empty-handed.

One day, back above my teacher’s shop, I placed five bowls around a mattress and asked my friend to play them. As he played them, my body became profoundly relaxed. He was making me laugh on end, no less, with his jokes and stories, but my mind was clear and serene amidst it all. After several days of continual searching, I’d decided I’d take these bowls. Finally, I had an antique set. My excitement about Bali and beyond was getting greater by the moment. The task of the moments to come would be deciding what to do with my “former loves.”

The heat was sweltering and relentless. I’d packed a box with gifts to send home to my family. I also made room for three singing bowls, not knowing what to do with them at this point. They added quite a bit to the weight to this care package of mine. I waited for the courier service clerk to return from his lunch break, increasingly aware that my flight to Bali was mere hours away. When he finally arrived, he took inventory of each item I was sending, diligently fitting them into the box once again. I was becoming fidgety. Fretting over the freight costs with and without the singing bowls was a way to indirectly answer to my gut feeling. So was sending a message to my sound healing friend living in Bali:

“Do you think you or your friends would be interested in buying a few singing bowls?”

I had no idea if he’d get the message in any timely manner. Miraculously, he responded right away. “Sure!” he wrote. “Please bring them along if you can.” Just before the packing tape was brought out, I interrupted the clerk and extracted the bowls from the box one more time. It wasn’t yet their time to head to my hometown.

At the airport, I ran into immense, humbling difficulties as I succumbed to unexpected overweight luggage expenses. Budget airlines challenged my budget, along with my trust in what I was doing this whole time, and why. I arrived in Bali in sunken spirits, with luggage made a little heavier by some doubt and regret. I was in a magical place for the first time, but the little rain cloud over my head stayed for a little while.

About a month later, I was in Ubud, Bali. I was feeling better about my situation, and using my antique bowls occasionally with friends and during massages. My other bowls lay dormant, however. My healer friend wasn’t inclined to buy them from me, and his friends weren’t, either. As time drew on, I began to spread the word once more, feeling desperate to reclaim some cash and lighten my load. I was given the phone number of another sound healer. As it turned out, I had met this man once before, at an event of his. I contacted him, and was encouraged to hear that he was in the market for singing bowls. He offered to come to my house and check the bowls out in person.

That same week, he was sitting on the floor, eager to inspect the heavy, magical metalworks I’d carefully couriered from five thousand kilometers away. He began striking the first one, using different mallets and waiting a long time as he listened thoughtfully. I knew what the sort of concentration it took for me to evaluate new bowls for myself, so I gave him space. I sat at the table at the other end of the porch, sipping some water. I filled a glass for him to drink and set it beside him. All his attention was on reviewing the bowls and he never seemed to even take notice. I went back and sat down patiently, letting my thoughts drift. He took several minutes playing the first couple of bowls.

Suddenly, a strike. My whole awakened in itself. My head moved quickly in the man’s direction. Somehow, I felt my body declare almost casually: “Oh, that’s our bowl.” 

As he continued to play my “First Love,” I began to receive an additional message from my body, this time with a more pressing tone: “Hey, who is that man over there, and what’s he doing with our bowl? Are you selling that bowl?!”

Am I selling that bowl?” I asked the question in my mind. “Is this a good idea?” New or old, this bowl had a connection with my body. It had grown to love it in ways I hadn’t realized or understood. Perhaps the bowl served as the soundtrack to a few meaningful dreams which I have no memory of. I felt a stirring not unlike the one in Nepal, when I sprang up from my chair to take the bowls back out of the care package to America. Following this feeling, I took my water over to the healer, and sat across from him. He played my first bowl a couple more times, then looked up at me. “If I had to be honest with you, my friend, I don’t understand why you’re selling this bowl. In fact, I think it’s a mistake. I refuse to let you sell this bowl to me. I think you’re a fool not to keep it.”

My jaw dropped. I felt ‘caught’ in my desperation and doubting the way of things. He continued, “Why are you selling these bowls? They’re all amazing.” He went on to play them some more, as I stumbled over my explanations of how I’d given up on them since buying older bowls. I was told that newer bowls are out of place with antique ones, in terms of sound and energy. “Ah, yes,” he said. “Well, I’d love to see your collection, by the way. I won’t be buying these bowls from you. But I’m curious to hear your older bowls.”

I brought out my set of old bowls, the “proper set.” My new friend was thoroughly impressed with them for their character and qualities. However, that made him no less impressed with my “First Loves” also sitting right before him. He began to play them all together, in ways I had never before conceived of. In fact, I had to admit in that moment, I wasn’t sure if I ever spent proper time to play them all together. Too early on had I concluded that some of my bowls were a mistake. I shared this with the healer as he played all the bowls together. He began to raise his voice in excitement, exclaiming his awe and appreciation for the bowls. “Listen to this! And to this!” He kept playing them in different unique patterns. They sounded magnificent interpreted by him. I told him I couldn’t believe I was so close to selling my “First Love.” He wasn’t shaken. “You know what, brother?” he asked me in his heavy Italian accent. “This bowl knows you neglected it, and it doesn’t mind one bit. In fact, it was waiting for you to come back around. The whole time, it was saying, ‘to hell with you, man—I’m gonna fit in with any other bowls you buy, despite you!'” He may have used stronger vulgarities than that. At any rate, he was right. I couldn’t believe I never heard the synergy myself.
“But you know what that means?”

“No,” I said. Then he said something that stopped me:

“It means there’s no mistakes.”

In that moment, I beheld the infinity of the moment. I sat across from this eccentric new friend of mine. In between us were all eight of my bowls, which may never have been intentionally arranged together before, and certainly not with this level of appreciation and respect. This man really connected with singing bowls. It was inspiring to see him react and respond to them. It was probably not  unlike being visited by the Dog Whisperer and watching him connect with your pets more deeply than you have as their longtime owner.

It was now the eighth month of the year, and approaching the eighth month of my current travels—a saga that kept on adding chapters to itself. In this particular chapter, I had been doubting everything: my journey so far, my apparent direction forward, (or lack thereof). I had spent months doing things I hadn’t expected, feeling in the flow with life and its plan for me. But during this respite, I only saw disharmony. I felt the practices I was doing didn’t gel with each other, coming from different traditions and ideals. And where were they leading? And where could I possibly expect it to lead? It was just one of many moments where I tried to grapple with my mind the Grace I once followed like a sail in the wind. It just wouldn’t work.  Sensing this, I hoped to sell these bowls in part as a way to pacify my mind’s dreadful notions that everything was for naught. Instead of extra cash, I received far more that evening. With a little guidance from this skillful interpreter of the bowls, I was able to finally receive the bounty that was already mine. “You’re rich!” he exclaimed playfully with ever-widening eyes. Laughing, I nodded my head, and glanced down at the floor between us. Beholding the eight bowls during this eighth month, I felt everything come full circle in a single instant, and my eyes became moist with gratitude. Fullness was recognized as this moment.

I had all I needed.

I held some mistaken views, and, I’m forgiven.

And, anyways…

There are no mistakes.

The healer left that evening, grateful as well, simply to connect with kindred soul that shares a love for these sounds. The love I have for them, however, is growing from a seed he himself helped plant. Since that evening, I’ve been listening to the singing bowl more deeply each time I sit down with them. My misgivings have often melted away before a feeling of an awareness that can see more than I can at any given moment. Since then, I’ve been able to harmoniously combine what I learned from my teacher in Nepal with my own intuition, and I feel I’m continually learning from the bowls themselves. This is a notion that I perhaps would have scoffed at months earlier. There would be countless other experiences I would have with them that led me to realize that the singing bowls are speaking to, and activating an aspect of our consciousness beneath rational thought. Tuning in to their uniqueness, I tap in to what feels like my innate Knowing; to an ancient subconscious wisdom that I’ve no doubt long overlooked, in favor of acquired knowledge and, less authentically, the assumed opinions and beliefs of other people.

It’s my growing belief that all of life, all of nature is speaking to us all the time in countless ways, whispering messages of vast meaning for us. Weaving us in its tapestry and connecting us with the greater creative force of all things, from which could not be separate. And, it’s also my growing belief that somehow the singing bowl helps us to rekindle the sense of this tapestry, pointing us back to that subtle connection with the way of things. Reawakening our intuitive sense.

At least, this has been my own experience so far. To say the least, since then I haven’t found something worth trading in for that First Love. And it’s true: she’d been forgiving me from the very start.

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