Gongs – Not Bongs
My first experience is using the Gong was in a Kundalini Yoga ashram in 1974 where it was played by teachers for recovering drug addicts.
Our ashram served as a half-way house for ex-drug users, primarily heroin and cocaine. They lived a yogic lifestyle, ate the healing yogic diet, and practiced yoga with the gong for relaxation and meditation.
At the time I had no idea why the Gong worked as it did for drug rehabilitation. Over 40 years later, I am beginning to figure it out.
Obviously the Gong can be very relaxing. The relaxation response from the gong comes from its powerful ability to reconnect the listener to their parasympathetic nervous system, or the part of ourselves that allows us to let go of stress and tension created by an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
In some way, the Gong was teaching people to let go, let gong and let God. Drug users are often looking for a way to deeply de-stress themselves – to knock themselves out with heroin or pills so they no longer feel the existential pain of their existence.
The Gong gave them that same sense of escape from stress and pain that the drugs did. It also taught them that they could access the nervous system of relaxation, the parasympathetic nervous system, that is activated by auditory input (as opposed to the visual input of the sympathetic nervous system).
In effect, it was rebuilding, repairing or simply allowing them to rediscover their parasympathetic nervous system.
Yet the Gong was doing more than that. It was moving prana, the energy of healing and consciousness, in massive amounts through their energy body, almost like a powerful breathing practice can do.
In the view of Yoga, all addictive behavior is based upon a deficiency of prana, or vital life force, within a person. They begin to look outside for that energy, be it caffeine, sex, shopping, cocaine, or even Facebook posts(!) that give them a temporary hit or rush.
The Gong generates and magnifies prana, and sound is the most subtle carrier of prana into the body. When the Gong is heard, there is a sensation of energy pouring into the individual. One of the most common complaints (or compliments) that I hear after a gong session is that the person can become so energized it is difficult to go to sleep even though there is also a deep residual sensation of relaxation.
In that way the Gong gives people what most drug users are seeking: energy and relaxation, stimulation and healing, and a way to balance the two nervous systems that determine our ability to be both effective and at ease in the world around us.
Finally, the Gong provides a safe high, a sense of seeing yourself from the mountaintop as it opens the higher chakras and energy centers to give us a sense of spontaneous meditation and connectivity to something that is beyond our ordinary reality.
Why bong when you can gong? Why get high when you can stay high?
The only danger is that you may simply substitute one addiction for the other, and as of today there is no known cure for the inveterate Gong Head. Except more Gong.