The sound eventually empties into silence
By Ed Hirsch
A singing bowl spiritual practice is basically an attention practice through conscious, effortless listening. The singing bowl is struck with a mallet, it vibrates with sound, and the sound comes to an end — the basic simplicity of beginning, middle, and end of all stories, processes, days, lives, relationships.
The mallet strikes the bowl at a particular moment and a particular point of contact. This corresponds to concentration, being present. By default, we are always being here now, always present, but now we enter into this consciously. We pay attention, listening to “this.” The practice of listening, as an effortless receptivity, is brought to a focus of “This here now!”
The sound seems to expand beyond the point of contact and fill the space, penetrating and permeating everything. Let this include the space of your body and mind, and beyond, as you sense, listen, and breathe.
This opens to the second stage as contemplation. Inquiring, “What is this?” we discover that it —life, our very being, all that is — is not what we thought it was. It is like awakening from the trance of daily life to discover that each moment, as it is, is “This” as the Fullness and Oneness of Presence.
The sound eventually empties into silence, as if it were gracefully and entirely surrendering itself. Before, we were listening to the sound; now, we are listening into the silence. This silence as absence of sound opens into the Silence as a Presence that is here yet spaceless, now yet timeless, beheld and yet mindless, our very being and yet selfless. It is One without parts.
It is as if our whole being empties into That, which is both Emptiness and Fullness. This is the third stage as meditation, in which everything seems to relax back into its Formless Ground of Being or Presence. Thoughts might arise, but they arise within Consciousness, as clouds or even storms might arise within the vastness of the sky. As you breathe, abide in this Silence, not as a lack of sound but as a Presence within which sounds arise.
In the first stage, concentration as being present can open into Being Presence if the focus is felt in the heart. This can be recognized as the Indwelling Presence, felt as your own being and yet not separate from Being as the All-Pervading (Fullness) and as the Transcendent (Emptiness). While these emerge sequentially in the practice, they are recognized as eternally co-present in the Oneness of Being.
The Indwelling is in the “point” of your heart and yet resonates with all points. The All-Pervading Presence is That within which everything arises. The Transcendent Presence is as the Silence into which the whole of space empties and yet from which it all emerges. All of these deepen your sense of the Mystery of Presence. In the practice, we move from the Infinitesimal (represented by the point of contact) to the Infinite (represented by the space of the room and beyond) and then to Infinity (beyond all extension whatsoever). This corresponds to the Transcendent Presence (spaceless, timeless, mindless, selfless). Transcending all separation, this carries the implicit recognition that these three “dimensions” of Presence are One Presence, as the three dimensions of space are one space. Presence “Within” (depth), Presence “Around” (width), and Presence “Above” (height) are recognized to be One Presence.
These three steps of practice awaken us from the dream into the Silence of meditation that is always already present, just as the singing bowl is used to begin a spiritual teaching or retreat. And these also lead to the fourth step that leads us back into life, just as the singing bowl is used to end the meditation or retreat. Concentration opens in both ways, as the ascent and the descent within the One Mystery.
We have never really left life, just as we have never really left Presence. We expanded the finite into the infinite and released that into infinity, which is not separate from “this here now.” The point of the practice was opening form into Formless Presence (as sound into Silence), as well as opening Formless Presence into life in human form.
Ed Hirsch facilitates small weekly gatherings in presence, making use of an embodied system of guided practices. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (email@example.com).