By Max Raphael
No matter who I’m with and where,
—or at times, I’m humbly reminded—
that the more I learn to truly slow down,
to deeply listen and simply be,
the more richly and harmoniously
I play each sound.
And, with every sound invited
a sweet space emerges
where others can find permission
to feel just as whole,
fulfilled and connected as I.
I don’t know about you, but on any given day, there could be a multitude of things that vie for my attention, or throw me off my center. Thankfully too, there are so many great practices out there to tune back into oneself.
I myself have tried a few, and I can say that sound is one of my favorite ways to “come back to me.” I may be a little biased, as I have spent more than half my life working with sound, in one manner or another—but hear me out!
I believe that day-to-day life, for many of us, can be so visually, audibly, and mentally distracting—for so much of the time—that we don’t even quite realize when we’ve been thrown off balance. When we find our mind, emotions, and body out of sync, sound can be a soothing guide back to harmony. As we’ll experience together here, sound can help us to release the grip of the mind and re-inhabit our bodies, tapping into ease, insight and creativity.
I believe that when we come back home to ourselves in this way, our ‘problems’ don’t even appear to be what they were a moment ago. From this place of integration, we can find so many of the ‘solutions’ right there inside ourselves, and find the harmony with life we often yearn for. This passionate belief of mine led me to create my own wellness company, True Resonance, which seeks to help people attune to an authentic sense of wellbeing that inspires harmony and purpose in everyday life. My primary vehicle to do this is the practice of sound healing.
In my sound healing work, I use an array of instruments, many of which I’ve discovered during travels abroad; from singing bowls and gongs to the flute and didgeridoo, even our very own voices.
Each of these sounds imparts a unique sensation for different people, whether experienced in a group concert (also known as a sound bath or sound journey) or in an individual sound therapy session. While resting in a comfortable environment where such sounds are played live in sequence, simple yet profound shifts can happen. This certainly has been the case in my own life.
Several years ago, I was slowly turning away from my career in audio engineering, which I’d long thought was my life’s calling. Around that same time, I was finding meditation, yoga, and later energy healing, to be soothing balms for long held depression, anxiety, grief and trauma. Eventually, I left the country to live and travel in Southeast Asia.
Fully committed as a resident student at a Zen & Tea center in Taiwan, my world of audio and music was far behind me and spiritual pursuits took its place. Yet sure enough, one day my roommate mentioned an upcoming singing bowl concert by ‘some guy in Taipei’. I’d never heard of this kind of thing, but for some strange reason, I was interested. When I finally got in touch with this ‘guy’, I found I’d only just missed the concert. However, I could come for a private sound healing session, he said. Why not, I thought. It sounded intriguing enough.
Somehow, lying on a bed while instruments like singing bowls and gongs were played around me would completely change me. I deeply relaxed. I went into a sleep-like state, where I experienced peaceful visions and feelings of bliss. I came out feeling profoundly, simply, OK. Not only was I more comfortable in my own skin, but I came to know that I—we, are much more than our thoughts and senses would lead us to know. I went back for a few more sessions with this ‘guy’, who I would learn is a world-renowned sound healer and teacher, and who would eventually be my teacher, too. My experiences in those initial sessions were beyond words, yet intimately familiar to me. I was immediately hooked. I told myself, “I have to find these singing bowls and share them with others.”
Before I knew it, sound had come back into my life. On a couple of trips to India and Nepal, I began collecting the handmade bronze singing bowls from the Himalayan region, commonly known as Tibetan singing bowls. I branched out from those instruments, incorporating other sounds and techniques I would learn from remarkable teachers. My perspective on sound shifted internally; my path twisted and turned, and my spirits began to lighten.
The deeper I immersed myself in the exciting new world of sound healing, the more I realized that sound was always a powerful gateway to contemplation and transformation in my life.I saw that even during my days in recording studios, my passion was not particularly for music, but for sound. I was honing in on sound and tone, sculpting it to the point that listening became a sort of meditative entrainment. While learning Reiki and meditation, it was the practice of chanting, especially in a group, that had the most memorable impact on me.
I began to reason that I was an audio learner (whether in scholastic or spiritual pursuits!) Yet recently I’ve come to think that we all connect with sound in a visceral and immediate way. After all, in the womb, the fetus is continuously bathing in the vibrations of mother’s heartbeat.
In our languaging of emotion, intuition and even spirituality, we often seem to express ourselves using sound-related words. We speak of raising our vibration, getting on a different wavelength, finding our rhythm, tuning in with ourselves, harmonizing with one another, and of course, spreading good vibes.
For whatever reason, a good many of us relate to sound with the same sensibility that we relate to our own deeper aspects of self.
While music is undoubtedly a powerful and universal form of human expression, sound vibration lies both within it and perhaps one layer deeper. For me, sound is a bridge between mind and body, the transcendent and the everyday, self and other, the here, now and what’s possible.
So far, I’ve had the honor and delight of sharing my sounds in three continents. I’ve sat with yogis, meditators, and office workers; with veterans, cancer survivors, children, and seniors. With my friends at The Well, I’ve collaborated on one meaningful project after another, via Mindful Music Moments, True Body Project, and City Silence. In all these experiences, I’ve witnessed the countless ways that simply ‘tuning in’ can instill a felt sense of wholeness and wellbeing in myself and others.
One of the reasons I’d left my audio career behind was my complicated relationship with music. I always felt I would connect to my craft more if I was a proficient and active musician. However, I never felt accomplished at any instrument. With each new one I took up, practice would quickly become a laborious, self-diminishing task that ended in discouragement. As a ‘sound healing practitioner’, musical practice and performance snuck in through the back door. When people referred to me as a ‘musician’, I would still shrug it off. But over time, I let it in, and let go of my baggage around performance. After all, this art of relaxation, to me, is more about being than doing.
So, sound hasn’t only been a mystical, transformative tool in my life, but a source of permission to be myself. Sound is my wave back to shore, but also the current along which I flow more gracefully with life, moment to moment. Finally, it’s the medium through which I send ripples of positivity out into the world.