In the Real World, the constant need to achieve and to meet the expectations of family, friends, employers, colleagues, and strangers on Instagram is accepted as normal. People seem to feel that they should be busy all the time with work, play, study, sport and devotion to their devices. The pandemic has paused this, bringing another level of anxiety.
How can a visit to Bali be healing?
Ironically, people often come to Bali to find ‘healing’. At some deep level there’s a realization that the mind is over-stimulated and needs to rest. But when they are in Bali the addiction to busy-ness continues. Every day is filled with sightseeing, sports, activities, socializing and the abovementioned devotion. So this is the paradox, because only in stillness can healing arise. Yet we seek healing while constantly stoking the fires of busy-ness. We seek a ‘healer’, but we are already inhabited by our healers. We need to do our own work, and part of that work is embracing stillness.
I repeat, only in stillness can healing arise.
Every organism seeks a state of balance within its own context. The human context includes body, mind and soul/spirit. But balance, stillness, quiet and the absence of stimulation seem to have become a lost art in the west. We need to learn to switch off the conscious mind, pull the plug.
The Balinese are very good at stillness. Prayer and meditation are part of their daily life, and they have a special gift for being in the moment. I think it’s easier to learn stillness here in Bali. Not only is the air itself charged with magic, but both the Balinese and foreign communities support our efforts to achieve balance in our own ways. Practices that might seem eccentric in the Real World are mainstream here in Bali.
The Paths to Stillness
For me, there are three main paths to stillness.
The first is Nature. There are plenty of studies to support our instinctive awareness that we feel better when near Nature. Yet humans have never been so far from merging with the natural world or so divorced from Nature.
Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ Developed in Japan during the 1980s, it’s become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine with plenty of scientific studies to back it up. Benefits include greatly reduced stress and anxiety.
In Bali we can practice Shinrin-Yoku in a forest, a rice field, or on a riverbank. This is not about hiking or jogging but simply connecting with Nature through our senses. Without a phone or a camera, the forest bather wanders slowly, sits, lies down and tunes into subtle sights, smells and sounds for an hour or two. Once learned, Shinrin-Yoku can be done anywhere -- in a nearby park back home or in your own garden.
Another path to stillness is meditation. Even a few minutes a day, when done regularly, will reduce stress and anxiety, increase imagination and creativity and lower blood pressure. Like forest bathing, there is plenty of science on the benefits of meditation. Again, in Bali, the energies support us in our practice.
I also have a profound respect for sound healing in the quest for stillness. Shervin shares his knowledge about how acoustic sound from trained practitioners can work to merge the aforementioned paths.
The relation between Soundhealing and Stillness
Natural sound vibration is another fast-growing and effective method for inviting in stillness. This may come as some surprise since most would associate Vipassana, silent or Zen meditation practices as being more conducive to the experience of discovering what it means to be still. Even our friends at Bali Silent Retreat Center are, perhaps shockingly, introducing healing sound bowls into the mix of their activities these days. Paradoxical? Whereas sound and music as sources of entertainment are normally presented to be stimulating and activating, neurologist and sound therapy author Dr. Daniel Levitin points out that sound sets itself apart because it is simultaneously stimulating and sedating.
The world of stillness is therefore an essential if nuanced gift of sound therapy. Using a multi-instrumental format to present live acoustic instruments, a sound journey, when done well, has the power to ease a listener into stillness and guide them to a richer experience with silence. The sounds can progress in such a way that the listener is gradually given a stronger and lengthier dosage of the space between frequencies (something nature does without us noticing). Before the session concludes, the sounds become lighter and softer until silence itself becomes the primary instrument.
Once all ‘struck’ instrumental sounds subside into quietude, a deeper peace takes over. Layers of tiny ongoing ‘unstruck’ vibrations surface into the awareness of the listener. ‘Anahata’ is how these subtle sounds are referred to in Sanskrit. Subtler, softer sounds are normally confined to the far reaches of our inner world and are drowned out by loud noise and overstimulation. The Anahata sounds help the meditative process by supporting listeners to become better attuned to the often undetectable underlying vibrations in and around them that inspire stillness and reinforce the attitude of rest, per Cat’s explanations.
As renowned sound practitioner, Joseph ‘Pepe’ Danza, puts it, “You can discern the degree of a sound healing’s success by the quality of the silence after the sounds have stopped.” Indeed, it is the post-sonic cultivation of stillness that allows for self-healing, self-regulation of the body and recalibration of the parasympathetic nervous system. No individual frequency or music therapy motif can do this on its own.
Finding Stillness in Nature
Nature comes from the Latin ‘Natura’ which relates to innateness or birthing. Its etymology suggests there is a quality of ‘rebirthing’ when in the energetic presence of a natural force from the environment. This explains Shinrin-Yoku’s tremendous popularity. The most appealing holistic therapies that help us to drop into our own essential nature are the ones that best emulate Nature.
Aside from the clarity it can provide an individual, Nature also conceived most of the world’s ancient healing wisdom still used today in respected holistic circles—the yoga sutras, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Balinese indigenous therapies, and Herbalism are just some examples of practices inspired by close observation of Nature. Could the ancient sages have predicted modernity’s levels of elevated stress and the lack of value assigned to the stillness needed for these types of treatments to optimally work? Could they have known that the survival of the natural world itself would be jeopardized by rapid development and urbanization?
These are bigger questions. For the time being, especially in Bali, Nature and its proxies remain our stillness refuges, and sound our ally. And as for sound therapy, when sensitivity to volume and opening of space is given priority over musicianship and ‘jamming’ skills, it can bring the ‘forest bath’ or similar immersive experience closer to us. Healing magic can happen when the sound facilitator steps out of the way, and the acoustic vibrations are shared as extensions of the natural elements. Their function becomes one with Mother Earth’s, to generate natural harmony and stillness for awareness and recovery.
May your path to stillness be smooth and joyful, and may you be well.
This article is written by Cat Wheeler, a Bali-based Reiki Master and Shervin Boloorian, Bali-based Sound Healer. Learn more about Shervin here, and about Cat here.