In San Francisco, seas of people staring down at their phones are as much a fixture of the city as trolley cars and fog. But a few nights out of the year, 1,300 people put away their digital devices and sprawl across the floor of Grace Cathedral church for a meditative “sound bath.”
The crowd lies on yoga mats and blankets, as a small orchestra of instruments – gongs, crystal bowls, a harp, and a didgeridoo – provides a 90-minute soundtrack for meditation. The idea is that the sounds give participants something to focus on, allowing any racing thoughts to peter out. Sound Meditation SF has organised six events in the city since 2016, and each sold out.
I recently attended a Sound Healing Symphony, organised by Sound Meditation SF, to see what the buzz is about. Here’s what it was like.
I don’t practice meditation regularly. I don’t even have Headspace on my phone.
But I arrived at Grace Cathedral on a Friday night with an open mind. Simona Asinovski, a former tech worker and cofounder of Sound Meditation SF, told me not to be intimidated.
Asinovski said she practiced yoga for at least six years before she was able to meditate for even 10 minutes. “Meditation is very challenging,” Asinovski said. “It’s just fundamentally hard to be still and be present with what is – which is usually a lot of stuff.”
But a sound meditation helps beginners tap into a meditative state by allowing them to focus on the music instead of the “little stories that we tell ourselves,” Asinovski said.
Hundreds were already lined up outside the church when I got there.
They came towing blankets, yoga mats, body pillows, and the rare air mattress. I felt a little nervous and almost giddy, like I was joining the most exclusive slumber party in the city.
Tickets for the Sound Healing Symphony cost $US25, while “benefactor” tickets go for $US150. The latter grants you a VIP spot at the front of the church, where you can be close to the orchestra.
When the doors opened, I saw that the church had been transformed into a meditative oasis. Sounds from a single harp spilled out from the altar, setting an ethereal mood.
People scrambled to claim their spots.
Asinovski, who comes from a tech marketing background, said she doesn’t think the event appeals to tech workers any more than it attracts people from other industries.
An increasing number of tech workers, from author-podcaster Tim Ferriss to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, swear by meditation as the secret to their success.At Marc Benioff’s behest, Salesforce will add a meditation room on every floor of its new tower in San Francisco.
Anyone who works in front of a screen for long periods of time could benefit from an opportunity to “step back into your body” and “get out of your head,” Asinovski said.
There are two rules of sound meditation: No phones and no snoring.
At 8 p.m., I took my place lying down on my yoga mat. Guy Douglas, cofounder of Sound Meditation and a veteran gong player, came on the mic to lead us in a chant of “om.”
The symphony began. The sound of crystal bowls — like fingertips on wine glasses — rippled through the stone building. I tried to latch onto their white noise and clear my thoughts.
Later in the meditation, the sound of gongs filled my chest with heavy, grounding tones.
Every few seconds, I caught my mind drifting and returned to the music.
And then I fell asleep. I didn’t intend to. Douglas told me on the phone before the meditation not to be embarrassed if I did. “You can’t get more restorative than sleeping,” he said.
I didn’t achieve enlightenment in the 90 minutes of meditation (and sleeping). But I spent a Friday night unplugged from my devices and rested, instead of binge-watching Netflix.
I also left feeling more willing to try meditation again. The sound allowed me to tap into a meditative state, if only for a few seconds at a time, and showed me what is possible.
“There’s this really powerful bliss when … you’re not thinking for a moment and you’re just experiencing,” Asinovski said. “That’s where the magic starts to happen.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.