10 Ways to host a great gong soundbath.
I really can't recall what it was like the first time I hosted a gong bath for other people. The whole thing happened very slowly and very organically. As I mentioned at the end of 'Buying your first gong - Part 1', after my training, I spent many months playing a cathartic Pluto gong every day, to start working through my own 'stuff', before I even thought of sharing the gongs with anyone else. I then went out and bought a much friendlier Earth gong to share with the public. This gong had very different playing characteristics to the Pluto gong so I then spent a month or two getting to know it and helping it loosen up.
All this work was done in my front room, which had enough space for 6 or so people lying on yoga mats and one on the sofa. So when I felt ready, it was pretty easy to transition a few friends in, get used to playing for small gatherings and then eventually start promoting weekly paid sessions to the public, all based from home.
As I say, everything was very organic, for the first couple of years all of my playing was in a known, safe space which could be left set up between sessions and, as time went by, became more and more gong friendly. I was getting invited out to other venues; festivals, retreats etc. But having a home space to work from gave me a very gentle start. And by the time I was ready to move on to sessions at bigger, public venues I felt very comfortable with holding space and channeling the gongs.
You might not be so fortunate, perhaps you are going to have to rent or borrow a space from someone else straight away? If so, here are some pointers that might help you take your first steps.
1. Are you ready?
When I introduce new players to the gongs I typically see one of two behaviours. Most common, people are intimidated by the gong, particularly the larger gongs; their size, their presence, their power and in some cases what they feel the gong represents in 'spiritual' terms. So their playing is timid, they are the servant afraid to raise their head to the master.
Less common, but certainly not rare, are those who are unable to work calmly with the emotion that the gong generates within them. Like a choco-phile demolishing a box of chocolates, but only tasting the first one or two, they charge in, louder and louder, faster and faster, on some sort of emotional roller coaster, until they are locked into relentless crash and thunder. I was one of these and secretly still get a thrill out of the occasional 'controlled climax' - but now it really is a controlled climax with lots of foreplay and only if and when I know the room is genuinely ready...
You may recognise some of these behaviours from your own early days of playing. If either still remain then perhaps it isn't really the right time for you to start taking the gongs out yet? Maybe continue working on yourself with the one(s) you have, or perhaps listen to a few new ones and see if there is one out there that resonates even more deeply with you and can help you move on a little further.
2. Take little steps...
Having a bald patch and grey beard, very occasionally people with neither of those attributes share some of their uncertainties and challenges with me. One thing I hear myself saying time and again is 'take little steps'. This applies to almost every aspect of your gong practice.
Certainly when you are 'on the path' you will find that life is constantly throwing you opportunities that you don't feel ready for, and perhaps you should take them anyway. But of your own volition, when synchronicity isn't driving you forward, then jut take one small, steady step after another.
There is a concept called 'gong time' - that is the time that the gongs take to decide that they are ready to move forward. Gong time can be very slow, like when you are waiting for a specific gong to be made to order for you. Sometimes it is breathtakingly fast, as in a festival texts you and asks you to be available for 3 days next week! Either way gong-time is never measured to the regular beat of a clock - learn how to sense it and be at ease with it. Your intuition can hear the erratic flow of gong time, but your ego can't; it wants action and outcomes... Trust your intuition.
Some examples of little steps might be:
When you want to start playing for other people, start with just one person who you know will understand and be affirmative.
Increase your audience size gradually.
Initially take on a small venue where you feel safe.
Don't take out too many gongs to start with. - Playing multiple gongs (beyond just randomly 'bonging' them) is an art in itself which requires that you know all of the gongs you are playing intimately and have spent a lot of time working with them in combination, to really understand how they interact. So keep it simple when you start out. In truth, if you take out just one reasonably sized gong and play it competently your audience will get far more out of the session than listening to someone displaying 10 gongs and bonging on all of them, less competently.
Don't try to fill your sessions with other sounds and instruments when you start out. The full blown soundscape can come if you decide that is something you want to do after you have genuinely found your place with the gongs.
Don't overwhelm yourself with things that you have to say and do before you start playing. Your tutor should have coached you on how to introduce the session - cover the essentials, keep it short and to the point, let the gong speak for itself; it is more than capable of holding the session for you.
3. Find a safe space that you know is going to work.
I was lucky to have enough space and flexibility to be able to use my home for my first gongbaths, but if that is not the case for you, then find a space where you feel safe and that you know is going to work for you. Typically this will be a room or hall that is not too large, is in a quiet location and feels 'right' when you walk into it for the first time.
Make sure that the owners know what you plan to be doing and are happy with it, so that you aren't going to worry about making a noise. Spend time sitting in the space before you hire it; to make sure it has the right, calming atmosphere for you. Is it next to a hospital, police station, pub, club or anywhere else that is likely to get noisy? Does the room need and have heating? And if so is it going to be noisy? If the centre you are using has other rooms, find out what is going to be happening in them when you are playing, is it likely to distract your guests?
If your session is going to end in the dark, then are there harsh streetlights outside? Can you pull the curtains or shutters? Does the room have strip lighting or softer 'mood lighting' that you can turn on gently when the session is over? Are there facilities for offering a warm drink to your guests when they have finished their session?
Don't forget to check access and parking, are you going to be able to get your gear in easily? I heard a remarkable story from a friend recently. Apparently he had use of a huge 80" Paiste symphonic which needed 4 people to carry it. However, he didn't check access to the room he was hiring beforehand and discovered, a short time before his session was due to start, that this massive gong simply wouldn't fit up the stairs.
Unperturbed and a builder by trade he set about cutting through the stairs and overhead beam with an angle grinder, still no success, dust everywhere. Hardly the right preparation to get him in the 'zone' for his performance, nor the right atmosphere for his guests to walk into. In the end he gave up and used smaller gongs for the session. Spending the rest of the night, once his guests had left, repairing the damage he had done earlier.
Obviously a few minutes checking access arrangements might not have led to such an interesting 'war story' but would have resulted in a far better outcome for the practitioner, guests and owners of the property alike.
4. Get yourself into the right place.
The likelihood is that your tutor will have spoken with you about personal preparation prior to your session and you will be working out what is desirable, necessary and practical for you.
One thing to be aware of is that no matter how gentle you are with yourself, how much time you have spent rehearsing with your chosen gong and how small the steps that you take are, you will likely find yourself in many situations where the mental activity and anxiety that holding space and playing in front of a group of strangers seriously gets in the way of you being at 'one' with the gong.
This is normal, for my own part, for at least the first 2 years of playing in public, no matter how deeply I immersed myself in the gong, there was always that voice in the background anxiously listening out for movement in the room, agonising over whether the people at the back could hear the subtlety and whether those at the front were being violated. I was desperate for everyone to be OK and to have a time equally as amazing as my own first gong experience. I felt that if they didn't I must be somehow inadequate and had let them down. I needed affirmation but knew I couldn't ask for it - and certainly not in the middle of a session!!!!
Perhaps I am a particularly anxious individual, but you may well feel some of those things at times too and the best advice I can give is to tell yourself what you tell your clients: 'Let go', 'Don't fight it', 'It will pass and change, so just go with it'. And it does change...
Eventually you will have heard so many conflicting stories from attendees that you will realise that each of them are at your sessions for their own reasons, and will have their own outcomes, over which you have absolutely no control. Your job is simply to activate, nourish and sustain the gong whilst it does it's work for them. If they need the experience to trigger and start dealing with difficult emotions, then that is what they'll get. If they need the experience to give them an hour of deep, nourishing rest, then that is what will happen. You will find that there are many sessions where both of these outcomes, and many more, are all happening in the room at the same time... So how can it be anything to do with your playing?
Just get into the calmest place you can, believe in what you are doing, get your self out of the way and keep playing to new audiences.
5. Give yourself plenty of time.
From everything you have read so far and will read below, it should be pretty apparent that it won't be good for anyone, including yourself if you are time pressured at the start of, and during, your session. If you are reasonably organised in your daily life then this might seem obvious. However even recently I have been billed to work with other practitioners only to find that, in their mind, it was perfectly acceptable to turn up bang on the scheduled start time, to a full marquee, and 'just wing it' with no orientation or preparation.
If you take your gong work seriously and care about your clients then give yourself plenty of time to set up and get yourself into the right place well before your session starts. Likewise, leave yourself plenty of time to wind up the session and get your kit out afterwards, without having to hurry your guests out of the door.
As rough guidance, I usually aim to get to the venue at least 45 minutes before the scheduled start time, making the assumption that guests often arrive at least 15 minutes early. Whether you let them into the space that early is up to you and dependent, in some part, on whether some kind of holding area is available. The amount of time you need to set up will be largely determined by the type of stands that you use. Increasingly I use portable tripod stands as they are quick to set up, don't need leveling, and are easy to transport. If you have decided on large orchestral frames it's going to take you a bit longer. I aim to have the playing finished 45 minutes to 1 hour before I am due to leave the building. Some guests will stay all night if you give them the chance, but you'll get comfortable dealing sensitively with that over time.
6. Journey together.
When you first start holding gongbaths you might feel as if you are the central player, shouldering the responsibility for everything that is going on. In some senses this it true, but really when you take a step back, you will come to see how it is the gongs that carry the session.
Sure you have a bit more to do than your guests; you have to carry the kit around, settle people down, feed the gongs and pull things together at the end. But think of it as if you and all the guests in the room with you are together on a sailing ship, maybe you are the one who has hold of the rudder and knows which direction will catch the wind. But the gongs are the wind. They are the motive force, they determine where all of you can go and without their energy no one is going anywhere.
So you don't need to feel apart from, or separate to, others in the room, you too will be on a journey, and as you hold more sessions and relax more fully when you play, you will come to realise how deeply the gongs are working on you, as well as the other guests at the session.
When you stop thinking too much and take the journey alongside your guests things will start to flow much more easily, you will probably use less words at the start and end, look at the clock less frequently and have grown a much deeper sense of connection to the way that energy is flowing around the room, all this is good and all of it takes time, so be patient with yourself.
7. Keep your self out of it.
At the end of 'How to buy your first gong Part 1' I described how your first gong is so important as an agent of change and how most of us really need to have worked with it long enough to be able to leave our 'self' out of our playing, before we start to consider channeling the gong for others. In point 1 above I expanded on this issue; identifying a couple of the most common challenges that people encounter as they try to adopt a 'self less' attitude towards their gong practice.
The saying goes... 'You don't play the gong, the gong plays you'... But when you are faced with a room full of strangers looking to you for guidance and direction it can be very easy to let the ego kick in and put your 'self' right in the middle of the picture.
My own gong teacher told me that whenever people came up to him after a session and told him how amazing the experience was, he would simply stand aside point to the gong and say 'yes it is amazing isn't it!' I think this attitude absolutely spells out where we are trying to get to. The gong's are the source, you are the channel, without the gongs you are just some whacky person waving a few Pom-poms on sticks around in the air!
So keep your ego in check, don't try to impress anyone, including yourself and just deliver to the gongs what you intuitively sense they need from you to do their work.
8. Give your guests plenty of time and space to re-orientate.
We spoke about giving yourself plenty of time to organise your session in point 5 above. Your tutor should have given you guidance on how to re-orientate your guests once the session has finished. Experiment with these and try other approaches as you become more comfortable.
Perhaps you want to re-orientate people by bringing them some more recognisable sounds; chimes, voice, flute or the like. Perhaps there is something you feel compelled to say to them. For my own part I experiment with different approaches all the time, right now I tend to forget about the clock, leave people in complete stillness until I feel a couple coming back then very gently talk people around, letting them stay where they are, assimilating their experience, for as long as they want to. The offer of light refreshment generally sees people voluntarily getting off their mats within 10 or 15 minutes.
Whatever you decide to do, trust your intuition and what it is telling you about the energy of the group, and see how you are feeling - don't forget you were at the session too - and right in front of the gong! Just give everyone, including yourself, plenty of time. Remember what a wonderful sensation it can be for a group of humans to be in stillness and silence having shared an extraordinary experience together, and don't be in a hurry to break the moment... No matter how much packing up you know you are going to have to do later!!
9. Decide what you need to do about follow up.
When I first started my practice I used to send a courtesy email to every participant after their gongbath. I kept this up for 18 months or so and felt it very worthwhile; many people would respond with detailed interpretations of their experiences, which were fascinating, and perhaps this level of after care helped engender a deeper sense of loyalty in some of my clients.
But the truth is, as you take on more work and your client numbers increase, this gets harder and harder to do. Particularly when you are working on retreat or at festivals/events where you might not have access to your clients email addresses. So I don't do that now, but we do try to keep in touch with people by sending out a monthly newsletter and Andrea helps by reaching out on social media as much as she can.
It's up to you to decide how, and even if, you want to follow up after your sessions. Perhaps you want to try courtesy emails, perhaps your tutor has given you some other great ideas. Either way, as with all things gong, be open and flexible and allow yourself to adapt as your practice grows.
10. Keep walking your own path.
Over time your confidence will increase, you will stop comparing yourself to other practitioners and you will develop your own style. My style has grown into something driven and shamanic, at the moment, not Kundalini crashing or droning and certainly not gentle 'bonging' around a large collection of seldom used gongs.
I have spent a vast amount of time practicing and experimenting to see what sounds each of the gongs currently in my care want to create in response to different, mallets, styles, rhythms and techniques, as well as how they resonate together in groups, or when played as a combined, single instrument. That level of effort has generated a following who find that my work works for them too.
The same will happen for you as you let go of your natural anxieties and find your true place with your gongs. It doesn't matter how people react, the gong will call those people to you that you can help at this stage in their journey. The likelihood is that those people will change as your own journey with the gongs causes you to change.
Like all things in life, your journey with the gongs is your own. Sometime things will go as you expected, sometimes they will turn out radically different. Regardless, believe in what you are doing, find pleasure in it and keep walking the path, one gentle step after another, who knows where it will ultimately lead you...