Learning to play is learning to listen

I’d just finished playing singing bowls for a small group. A dear friend of mine who attended the event came up and asked a question that made me smile: “So,” he said, “can anyone just get up and play these things? I mean, does it take any sort of skill?”

I was remembering the very first instruction I received from my sound teacher in Nepal. My smile grew, as I realized that this memory has since woven a wondrous story through all my work, particularly with singing bowls.

From the very beginning, I was taught that… learning to play is learning to listen.

How the bowl sings

untitled-1799.jpg“First, you have to wait until you feel something,” my teacher said. We sat across from each other on the floor, alone in a small unadorned room above his shop. The afternoon sunlight poured softly through dusty windows. Each of us held one of his antique singing bowls in one hand; a round felt stick in the other. He’d just shown me how to hold the bowl; with a flat, open palm so as not to restrict the vibration. Now, he was showing me how to make the bowl ‘sing,’ rubbing the stick in circles along the rim.

“At this stage, there is no sound.” He continued his circles. “Once you feel something, you can begin adding more pressure.” In a moment, his silent bowl started to sing, filling the room with rich sound. This was ‘stage two.’
I drew the stick around my bowl as he did, curiously entering stage one. Before I heard any sound, I could feel a vibration in my fingertips. I softened my hand’s grip on the mallet as I drew it around. As I relaxed I felt the vibrations even stronger, as they traveled through my wrist, arm and shoulder. My body entered what seemed like a conversation with the bowl; my hand added more pressure, and it responded, singing louder with each turn.

Soon, both of our bowls were singing. The room felt anew, filled with our vibrations. Suddenly, my teacher stopped and looked up at me. “But, this is important,” he began, thoughtfully. “We can’t force a sound. First, we have to relax—and be able to feel.” I took a breath and repeated the steps in his way. He wasn’t teaching me how to make a sound; he was showing me where the sound comes from. After all, this ‘place’ is ultimately where we want the sound to go.

An Intuitive Dance

Since that first lesson, I’ve noticed a miraculous relationship with the bowls and with other healing practices. Playing is an intuitive dance—a constant sway between giving and receiving. In some moments, I feel the bowls are playing me, as my consciousness tunes into them more deeply. What a great approach for many things we do—especially the things we do for other people. Whatever we’re doing, giving, offering or saying—it helps to tune in and be receptive at the same time. Learning to speak is learning to listen.

First, hold with an open hand.

Begin to gather your focus—wait.

Relax and witness. When you feel, bring forth a little effort.

Remain in the flow; feeling while giving,

open and free.

Play from this silence.

Enjoy every stage.


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