A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending The Big Quiet in SF, a mass meditation and sound experience put on by a small group of individuals trying to bring meditation to the masses and build a community of like-minded meditators.
There is a certain type of energy about people who -- like me -- openly meditate. It’s a practice picking up in popularity, but it hasn’t reached “yoga levels” yet. Like, when you meet someone who also does yoga, they could just be in it for the pants and/or trendy studio. It’s not some unique, instant connection that you share with folks. But with fellow meditators, it is. I can count on one hand my close friends who enjoy meditating and make a habit of doing it regularly. And there’s a really special connection that I share with each of them because we have this special practice in common.
The Big Quiet experience
During the first few minutes of the one-hour Big Quiet (BQ) program, we were asked to introduce ourselves to the person in front of or behind us. In that space, it was so easy to strike up a conversation, because the energy was so inclusive and communal. I had a lovely conversation with the girl in front of me, who wore all black and had a bull ring through her nose.
The night began in a line wrapping around the iconic Grace Cathedral on top of Russian Hill, a place comforting and familiar to me, as it’s where I spend just about every Tuesday night practicing yoga underneath the stained glass windows with hundreds of strangers that feel like my tribe. It moved quickly, and fortunately, I had a friend saving me a spot.
Once checked in, we were dabbed with essential oils on the back of the neck and the palm of the hand and handed SmartWaters and baseball caps with the phrase “passion + purpose” across the front. I’m sure I’ll be made fun of for wearing it, but I can’t think of a better message to brand myself with.
We took our seats -- pews lined with OutDoor voices totes and our own Sage essential oil to take home -- and settled in. I removed my shoes immediately and sat cross-legged. It was so special to look around that room of what was supposed to be 400 people and know that we were joined by a common thread. We had all agreed that it was important to take time for ourselves and time to slow down.
Much of what Jessie Israel, the man who leads the BQ program, said throughout the night alluded to his desire to get people out of the fast fray of life and into a profound, time-stopping experience. He uses two tactics to help get you there; meditation and sound.
We kicked off the programming with what he called a “vocal toning exercise,” where everyone was asked to match a single note played on one of the instruments and to hold that note, growing louder and louder, as a single voice. We played with five or so different notes, and by the end, I was laughing and smiling at how profound the moment seemed. It was as if the exercise were intended to release the vulnerability within all of us, but in a way that conveyed our simultaneous connectedness. We all sang and likely all would have sounded slightly off key if it were a solo performance. But together, our voices were so incredibly beautiful and perfectly pitched. It was as if to show us that it was ok to be vulnerable, because look how many people are here to support you, should your voice crack.
From there, we moved into a sound bath meditation. It’s hard to describe this -- there were a multitude of different *pleasing* sounds, either played live on an instrument or via recording. We received very little instruction prior, other than to begin focusing on the breath. This went on for maybe 20 minutes and definitely allowed me to sink a bit deeper into the meditation. The occasional sounds allowed my mind to anchor to something, similar to how it would in the breath. It felt less inclined to wander with thoughts because of this non-demanding distraction. I walked away thinking it would be a really easy way for someone to dip their toes into meditation.
Finally, the sound bath ended and we slowly opened our 400 sets of eyes. The program finished with two awe-inspiring live musical performances. The first, a man with a guitar played and sang a warbly, soulful song that I don't know the name of, flanked by exquisite violin & viola players. The second, a curvy lady in a long black dress and close cropped blond hair san an equally soulful, but more powerful, upbeat song, asking the audience to participate in her chorus.
At the end of the Big Quiet, I felt more like I’d sat through the Big Sound. The whole experience was laced with elements of sound and music, which at first blush, seems counter-intuitive to the practice of meditation. But I’m beginning to think about sound differently, at least as it relates to mindfulness.
If the purpose of meditation is to bring a sense of calm and peace into our lives, then it makes perfect sense to bring community building events and exercises into meditation. The vocal toning, introductions and sing-along song all felt like efforts to unite the 400 humans in the room.
If another purpose of meditation is to give us an opportunity to have a profound moment with ourselves, then music reinforces this well. It felt like they’d asked these incredible musicians to perform so that we could experience a sense of awe in our life, something that I doubt many of us can claim on a daily or even weekly basis. No doubt that’s why the venue for each of these events have been somewhere incredible -- Grace Cathedral in SF, the LA Public Library, Fenway Park in Chicago, the Museum of Natural History in NYC. The organization seems to tout an hour of calm, community, and awe.
For those curious about sound meditation, I would absolutely recommend it. It easily feels like a more profound and interesting experience than silent meditation in your bedroom on a Tuesday night (which is where I’m headed after writing this post). It would be an interesting experience for both seasoned and novice meditators.
Have you tried sound meditation? Or been to an event like the Big Quiet? I’d love to know how you felt about the experience! Let me know in the comments below.
Up Next: Read How To Meditate: My Personal Practice