Moving Through The Aether…

Beyond the Terrestrial Sphere

According to ancient and medieval science, aether (Greek: αἰθήρ aithēr[1]), also spelled æther or ether, also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. - (courtesy of good old Wikipedia) 

In working with the Gongs/Bowls/Bells, it’s easy to think about bringing all of our experience and ideas with us when we play them. After all, this is the Western way we have been taught, “practice hard, work on your ideas, refine your technique.” If you are a performing musician, you know that when you play you bring with you all your accumulated knowledge and ideas. You are expected to produce (or more accurately, reproduce) a specific musical experience.

Photo Credit: Toby Frost, ABC Classic FM

It's easy to get caught up in planning and perfecting what we do. “I've got to remember to do this, because it always gets a reaction.” Or you may have a basic list/order of things you always do. If you play in a rock band, this is great, because you are basically working to affect people in a certain way, to create specific moods/reactions with each song. And if you've ever been to a major rock/pop/country concert, you know just what this experience is. 

But if you play Gongs/Bowls/Bells for meditation or sound therapy sessions, then this is the wrong sort of approach. Instead of trying to do it to people, or control their experience, you are really looking to do the complete opposite. Your job is to get out of the way and be as invisible as possible. Instead of presenting preplanned ideas, you need to be open to the moment and be aware of what is being called for. In this way, the people are controlling their own experience.  

It takes years of hard work to develop this sense  of “listening” to the people. The most important thing is to learn how to get out of your own way. Again, we are often used to thinking, “If I do this, I will get this reaction.” Instead, we need to pay attention to what is happening around us, pay attention to the people we are playing for. If you tune in, they will always tell us what they need.

What we do is intangible. Sound is produced, it goes out into the air/aether, and then disappears. There are no remnants, no sound waves left over to remind us of what just happened. Here and gone into the aether, never to return. There is nothing for people to bring home and put on a shelf. They can bring home their experience, but that too is transient, evaporating into a memory.


The Zen concept of wu-shih (also sometimes written as wu-shin) translates as, nothing special. In his essay, Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen, the legendary philosopher, Alan Watts, quotes the great T’ang master, Lin-chi, In Buddhism there is no place for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special.” 

So, you took a weekend class and now have a framed certificate on your wall. You also have a shiny new Gong or Bowl. It's tempting to think that you have earned some sort of place in this world. But it's important to remember that this path is one of service, service to others, not yourself. You are ordinary and nothing special. This is not to say that you aren't important, just that you aren't anymore important than anyone else. The minute you think you are, then ego has taken over. 

You get up in the morning, get dressed, and go about your business like anyone else. You may work in an office, a school, a factory, or a store; or you may play a Gong, but there is no difference. What you do is ordinary and nothing special. Remember that each day is the same:

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

~ MB


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