Going, Going, Gong!
I watched an episode or two of the Gong Show in the late 1970's and remembered the hosts using a gong to end absurd talent show acts. It wasn't until my first experience at a Kundalini yoga workshop, that I realized the gong’s depth, complexity and multifaceted capability to transform.
The gong is a musical instrument that takes the form of a flat or slightly concave metal disc and is struck with a mallet to create a wide range of sound vibrations. Gongs are typically made of bronze and can vary in size ranging from 6 to 80 inches in diameter. The birthplace of the gong is said to be in Southern Asia dating back to 500 AD.
Having a biased imprint of the gong, I was curiously drawn to a flyer I saw with a headline that read, “Gong Bath”. My intuition suggested this was not going to be a spa day designed to rehabilitate outrageous talent show castoffs, so I moved in a little closer and read the fine print. It said, “relax, rejuvenate and heal”, words that resonated with me like the sound of the gong I was soon to experience.
I sat and waited in a room that smelled of homemade chai. I noticed many people dressed in white. I didn’t see the gong at first and I don’t know why because it stood at the front of the room, proud, and ready to roar.
The instructor, who was also dressed in white, came in and asked if any of us were new to Kundalini yoga. I raised my hand and shyly admitted it was my first time. Thankfully I was not the only one, but that didn’t matter to me for I was there to defy my old impression of the gong like a talented yogini in her best downward dog costume.
A few hundred ‘breaths of fire’ and several humble ‘Sat Nams’ later, I started to get the hang of it. I still didn’t understand why my arms needed to flap wildly to the rapid rhythm of my breath or what the purpose of chanting ‘wahe guru’ for three and a half minutes pertained to, but I was convinced there was something very special about this form of yoga brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan in 1969, seven years before the Gong Show. I felt light, intuitive and full of spirit and I had yet to hear the great gong.
After a surprisingly exhausting yet exhilarating first taste of Kundalini yoga, with over an hour to go in the workshop, we were instructed to lie down and make ourselves comfortable. I was about to experience the most profound consequence of a gong induced corpse pose.
The silence was replaced by a soft and gentle growl that arose from the front of the room. Layers upon layers of sound began building like looming thunderclouds. It was a tone so rich that it was hard to believe it came from just one instrument. Before long, my mind melded into vibrational patterns as sound waves crashed wildly through my body. When the roar amplified, I detected a deep visceral fear that sent a chill through my spine. My instinctive reaction would have been to start shivering or convulsing, but I could not move. Instead I lay there, paralyzed by the seemingly chaotic cacophony that was infusing my every molecule. I saw visions of dinosaurs running through plush, green valleys. I viewed the earth from a lofty height, void of cities, roads and humans. I floated over huge waterfalls, icebergs and forest fires. Somehow this all seemed familiar to me, as if that pristine prehistoric landscape was a part of my conscious past.
As the intensity of sound began to subside to a soft din, so did my fear. Something was different within me, as if I had been shaken, spread apart and rearranged. It was almost as if my physical body dissolved and all that was left was pure conscious awareness of something incomprehensible, yet within me. I had little kinesthetic cognizance, no reference to time, and minimal sense of my physical location.
Bathed in the delicately simplifying waves of the gong’s quieting intonation, contentment began to swell up inside my heart. When the last, faint thread of sound escaped and silence restored the space, I returned to having full awareness of my body.
I heard the instructor ask us to move gently. I completely forgot he was the motor behind the mallet, as if the gong had a mind of it’s own. Upon arising we brought our palms together and sang, “May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on.” The tears that rolled down my cheek right then tasted like the clean waters I witnessed in my celestial travels over a planet not yet inhabited by humans. I tried to conceptualize my experience, but instead I trusted that all of what occurred was a door opening to my own inner landscape.
As a lover of Kundalini yoga and the magnificent gong, I chuckle when I remember my previous association with the gong. Thankfully, it was not a soak in the waters of denigration, but a mysterious and genius awakening to something I will always honor and keep exploring.
To the masters behind the mallet who strike the gong so movingly to produce such astounding and dramatic waves of enlightenment, you are the champion talents in the gong show of life.