I don’t identify myself as a “bohemian type,” that dirty word denoting free-flowing ideals with the world’s most regimented eating plans. While I respect vegans, I do not sympathize with them. I look to yoga as a fitness last resort since it consistently feels like a church service I’m thrown into against my will. The closest I come to meditating is when my non-English-speaking hairdresser trims my bangs, and I can feel her many rings trace my forehead and for a moment I forget how alarmingly short she’s cutting my hair, and I am at peace.
Living adjacent to Los Angeles's Silver Lake neighborhood, you face off against some dream-catchers, a.k.a. men and women who claim the world’s defeat will be at the hand of misaligned chakras. I’ve never been one to be swayed by their passion, but I found myself curious. It's the same curiosity that makes a Los Angelino take pause before the grandiosity of the Church of Scientology Museum tour. This past week I followed that desire for peeking over “the spiritual fence” so to speak, and took part in a “sound bath.”
Yep, a “sound bath.” The name alone baffles people with its ambiguity. Who could possibly attempt to define it without having experienced it first themselves? I imagined a vacuous room with several people lying down, experiencing sound waves that feel like Mother Nature orgasming through your eardrums.
Is that a high bar to reach? Possibly. But such was the standard I set for Jamie Ford, a woman who owns the primo internet real estate of Sound-bath.com. The Eagle Rock Center for the Arts advertised this event as a special “Summer Solstice Sound Bath EXPERIENCE,” and with that emphasis I knew: this Jamie chick must be the real deal.
Jamie and her “people” (not "followers," as I felt tempted to type) believe that sound baths are a way to unleash the body’s inner powers. According to her website, this experience is set to establish “a more focused and relaxed mind and body... less aches and pains, less depression and anxiety, an amazing night of sleep, and great enjoyment of life in general.” Combine that with the fact that these instruments are intended to “connect you with the planets,” and you’ve got yourself one groovy celestial cocktail.
There were things I was ahead of the curve on, such as expecting to see the fully yoga-ed out Silver Lake-ians who took great ceremony in setting up their meditative dens. Noisily, they gabbed with their perpetually bed-headed pals about the “best vegan Indian food” (no true victor was claimed). But mostly, this crowd was littered with curveballs: the middle-agers who looked en route to a 24-hour fitness only to take a spontaneous detour; the young couple who insisted on bringing their three-year-old only to have him predictably squeal with boredom and confusion. (To be fair, he always enjoyed their sound baths at home; the parent’s weed habits certainly helped.)
Foolishly, I thought just bringing myself would suffice. I was wrong. The true sound-bather brings everything but their bed frame to set up. Even the couple that looked like they had recently gotten back from Goth Day at Disneyland knew what to do. As time went on, more and more people were packed into the room like the smelliest game of Tetris. I found myself face-to-face with the other sound bath pros while I desperately tried to cover up the fact that I was a mere novice.
Once all of Eagle Rock, and most of Silver Lake, was piled in (no one so much as uttered the words, “Fire Marshall”) Jamie took the stage. “It may get a little intense in here,” he said. The crowd laughed, knowing something I didn’t. “Some of you may fall asleep, but most of you will be on an inward journey.” I started to like the sound of that; it conjured this scene of all of us flying on the wings of Falcor from The Neverending Story. Our humanly bodies would soon ride passenger to our souls reaching up to the heavens. Maybe I could get with this, after all.
The crowd got comfortable. I found myself sandwiched between other people’s feet, and my own bare toes dangerously close to the Disneyland goths. I settled on a fetal position, closed my eyes, and waited for the magic to happen.
Gongs were played. Long, drawn-out sounds escaped from the special “quartz-crystal singing bowls.” I forced myself to escape into that otherworldly space, but I struggled to get my thoughts off the BO-laden mat I borrowed from the Center.
Several times I tried imagining the universe, the planets, where our souls go when we die, any Hollywood-approved image of the afterlife. Nothing. My inexplicable sound-bath neighbor fell into such a loud case of snoring that I thought she was making a joke. It was as if she would stir at any moment and shout, “Just kidding! Can you imagine?”
Jamie warned that after it was done, our first impulse of jumping up and leaving should be ignored. Can you physically injure yourself from coming down too fast from floating in the universe? I was about to find out.
We, a group of 100 or so adults, slowly came to, celebrated our “adult nap” with some soft clapping, and that was that. Where was the weird hippie-ness? Where were the love beads and the talk of Mother Earth and Father Sky? I was lost.
Later that night, I recounted the experience to a friend over wine. We talked about that stranger's smelly feet near my bangs, the Disneyland goths with perfectly aligned chakras, and the whale sounds that confused me as opposed to freeing me.
I couldn’t help but think of the episode of Boy Meets World where the amusingly tragic Shawn can’t go to sleep unless he plays a tape called “Sounds of the Trailer Park.” The joke is that it starts off calm and serene: crickets chirping, air filtering its way through the trees. Suddenly, there’s yelling from truckers and slamming of car doors. Shawn is fast asleep, one with the cosmos.
This was the kind of “sound church” I'm a member of. I'm a city girl. I live adjacent to one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. There’s a helipad mere blocks away from my apartment. Often times I’m comforted by the whirling of its too-close-for-comfort blades as they soar above my studio. That’s where my “happy place” is; amidst the chaos, not floating high above it.
Before bed, I found myself exhausted by an evening of explaining the weirdness. Though, a curious thing occurred: I’m not certain if it was the extra glass of wine, or the trials of my long day, but wouldn’t you know it, I had the best sleep I’ve had in years.
More stories about insane people in LA: