Thursday playlist: Ringing singing all the way

1. Django — Modern Jazz Quartet
2. Tahquamenon Falls — Sufjan Stevens
3. Blue Stamp — Anderegg
4. Bells 1 — Born out of Moonshine
5. Suite No. 6 in D, Prélude, by J.S. Bach — Mstislav Rostropovich

So I spent last week and most of the week before that at a ten-day silent meditation retreat of the sort so ably chronicled by Lisa Tremain. I didn’t reread her piece before going, but reading it again now I’m struck by how similar many of our experiences were. The light outside the tent! The question of skipping the 4:30 a.m. sittings! The point in the meditation where your body dissolves into vibrating particles! (It’s the weirdest damn thing.)

And the bell! To wake you, call you to meditation, call you to meals, someone walked around with an amazing hand-beaten brass slab hanging from a leather strip (I wrote “leather thong” but figured it would draw snickers — a word lost to common use) and strike it with a mallet. It produced the most amazing, resonant, sustained tone. Problem was, you often heard it at the worst times: at four in the morning, or at the end of the lunch/break period just as you were beginning to drift off into a nap, or calling you to one of the sittings during which you weren’t supposed to move your legs or hands.

The whole point of vipassana meditation is to train your mind not to react with craving or aversion to whatever stimuli it meets. But that bell! How could I not love it and hate it at once, its tone beautiful but too loud. Its smooth vibes scraped my mind, which was raw and defenseless with exertion.

(By the way, Janie and Trixie: There’s a part of the meditation where you literally (for some values of “literally”) send good vibes to people. I sent you both some, and some to Obama. When the silence ended and we were allowed to talk to teach other, I found I was not the only one who worried that something might have happened to Obama in the ten days we were cut off from the news.)

In any case, a brief playlist with bells. The last piece is solo cello, I know, but it’s an astonishing recording that to me strongly evokes the call and response of church bells.

Download the files here.

12 responses to “Thursday playlist: Ringing singing all the way”

  1. Tim says:


  2. Marleyfan says:

    Dave, we’d like to hear more about the retreat, maybe it could be one of your posts? I don’t think it would be repedative, in that it would chronicle your experience.

  3. Dave says:

    I don’t think I’m going to blog about it any more than this post, but who knows what might happen in a few weeks when I’m pressed for post ideas. The retreat was really hard, much more than I expected, and in fact I thought about going home several times but realized there was no way out but through. I had very few epiphanies, but I feel that some things really started to change “deep down” (scare quotes to demonstrate my discomfort with the metaphor of depth when talking about mind). I enthusiastically recommend the experience to everyone, but go into it ready to work hard for ten full days.

  4. Marleyfan says:

    I regulary keep myself quite busy with home,work,kids, etc., and when I have a little free time to relax, I wonder why I allow myself to get so stressed and harried. And I keep re-committing to slowing down my life (and mind). I would think that taking such a long period would be very grounding, and would also help focus of priorities. Did you ever have repedative thoughts that just kept coming in like waves (even unimportant ones)?

  5. Dave says:

    All day every day was little repetitive thoughts. The first thing you realize when you meditate is that you’re completely insane. Fleetwood Mac, Star Wars, the sandwich place near my office. Every little thing.

    The little thoughts quieted down somewhat over the course of the retreat, though. It’s a skill you have to develop, repeatedly and gently turning your attention back to the object of meditation. I’m not good at it yet at all.

  6. swells says:

    Thinking about Fleetwood Mac means you’re insane?


  7. LT says:

    It”s not thinking “about” Fleetwood Mac, but about all the lyrics to every song, each album in chronological order, the love triangles, whether or not their new album is any good…and then you’re writing your own song lyrics and thinking about your own love triangles– all this while you’re supposed to not think about anything and just focus on the sensations of the body.

    congratulations, dave. it’s nice to have a gw comrade who understands how weird/fantastic/horrible/cathartic 10 days of meditation is. I’ve done it twice and the second time was actually much harder.

  8. It would be nice to live-blog a ten-day meditation retreat. A little counterproductive possibly.

  9. Kate the Great says:

    All this meditating reminds me of a book. Has anyone else here read Stranger in A Strange Land? He does meditate on every little thing, and looks forward to those meditations. I wonder if the book is realistic as to what the act can be, what its potential is.

  10. Kate the Great says:

    Oh. It’s by Robert Heinlein.

  11. trixie says:

    dave, thanks for the good vibes.
    that was real real sweet.
    love trixie