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Review of Harmonic Chant retreat with David Hykes
David Hykes first came to my attention through his association with the films Meetings With Remarkable Men and Mahabharata. As I found out more about his current work with harmonic chant, I became interested in experiencing the direction he was following for myself.
I turned up at a stone farmhouse south of Paris one evening with the unformulated conviction that I couldn’t sing (I have never been able to reproduce a tune so that it is recognisable), but that it wouldn’t matter because I had come to the retreat for the contemplative aspect.
If someone would have told me that I would be singing by myself in front of other people, picking out notes and harmonics on my own, I wouldn’t have gone! But that is what happened, well it wasn’t really what I would normally call ‘I’ who sang, but a deeper, more profound, more quiet I was uncovered and given voice.
The experience of finding my voice was an acknowledgement that this voice, the sound produced by Kristina, lies both deep within myself and at the same time quite outside of me. I become the agent for this sound when I start to attune myself to a vibration that is already there, that is always there. Through my efforts a vibration can become manifest in time and space.
It starts deep inside me, inaudible, as a perceptible hum deep in my belly. On my breath it rises through the lungs and reverberates through every small air passage across the plains of my lungs. It is guided through the narrow passages of my voice chamber and enters the cave of my mouth, where it is held as a vibrating MMMMMM.
From the cave of my mouth my lips form a tunnel and the vibrating breath bursts the sound OOOOOO into the world outside, connecting with the vibration that is already there in the music David Hykes is playing. The OOOOOOO gradually opens to a wider, vaster, more expansive AAAAAAA and I sweep across the plains of sound on the wind of my breath.
The sound I make is so pure, so straight because it is connected both to the higher unmanifest idea of the vibration of sound and to the manifest vibrating hum produced in my body. This vibration permeates my entire body and starts to realign the space between the atoms, the cells, the nerve centres.
David Hykes’ discovery that the intoning of these vowels bring out the harmonics in the underlying note is a profoundly meditative experience that places the whole body in harmonious relationship with itself and the world around it. It is a healthful and restorative experience that is palpable. Sensation hums in every fibre of my body for days afterwards. It is as if all the microstructures that comprise ‘me’ are refreshed and distortions adjusted so that the harmonious whole can be reinstated.
The air passes through me, between each one of my atoms and I am a cathedral of air, of space and spaciousness. I start to breathe with all of me, with every cell, and my breath has power and duration like I have never known before.
I begin to learn to listen. I start to distinguish more, to hear not from my habits of unconsciously sorting audible impressions into categories, but to hear with more of me. I listen with all of my body. I hear the hum of the note with my trunk, with my hands, with my spine. I begin to attune myself to all the sounds spilling out of sound like a rainbow. I came here hearing only a single note, I leave hearing a rainbow in each.
Emphasis is placed on preparing through sitting quietly in meditation, by uncovering the essential state that underlies everything I do. This state is always there, like the fundamental note from which the harmonics are derived, but it is covered in tensions, habits and associations. I search for the quiet hum that underlies everything that I am, everything I do. It is from this essential state of ‘me-ness’ that I can begin to hear.
There is no pressure to be or do anything other than what is true to this basic state. There is no ‘correct’ singing, melody or pitch. There is only listening, listening for the note that is already in me and that wants to be sung. I am steered away from ‘trying’, from aiming for something ‘correct’ and instead, again and again, am turned towards my self, towards the essence-note with which my whole life resonates and from which my life springs.
I am singing harmonics, improvising, but it is not because I have become good at singing. It is because I am helped to be in a state of listening, a state of attunement, attunement to my self and to that which is higher and wishes to become manifest.
As I give voice to a note, a single note vibrating fully and cleanly, another, a fellow seeker, begins to manifest his or her note. And because of the harmonics to which David’s instrument is tuned the notes reverberate with each other and give rise to a new, third vibration surfing on top of and between our two notes. More of us join in and we become an echoing cathedral of spirit.
Listening to my neighbour, really listening for his or her vibration so that I can attune myself to him or her and invite in the invisible third, is the harmonious relationship with my neighbour that I seek.
At the end of each session we are guided to offer up the results, the efforts, our work, our attainments, absences of attainments and the beauty that we have created, and we let it go, it rises up as incense. This helps me to become free of the idea that I have ‘learnt’ something, acquired something. I am empty again, ready to be filled anew. Here, I am not improving, acquiring new skills. I simply am. And I am free.
The letting go, the uncovering of the basic state, makes possible the flow of loving kindness, of compassion, which is my essential nature.
Between sessions I find myself in a state that I recognise from childhood: still and fully present to the moment I am experiencing. I extend to the entire moment and there is no distinction between what is ‘taken in’ by the senses and what is ‘taking in’. I simply am the entire present moment and it is something which I am very glad to experience again.
This is also a leap in the dark, throwing myself in into something that I had the conception that I couldn’t do. I hear a voice in myself, tense and frightened, saying “but I can’t sing”. First I hear this mantra, the mantra from my usual state. Then I am encouraged to simply be, by sitting in meditation and quieten down my inner talk, my tensions and my racing mind. Then I hear the echo of my old mantra again. And I return to being. And then I begin to be able to attune to what is before me.
I find deep inside me the intuitive recognition of the vibration of sound which is the imprint of the laws of creation in me. There is no need for me to know music or to recognise pitch or to be able to sing to benefit from the contemplative, healing and harmonising effects.
I am guided towards my own self, which is self-less and in tune with others around me, and the deep connection that quickly develops between the fellow practitioners is evidence of this. I am helped to develop the courage to recognise what I am.
The instruments David uses facilitates the emergent hearing of multi tones, the drone and many notes creating harmonic sound as accompaniment and support.
This is a true recharge of the entire organism. I feel like I’ve rested for years. Working with harmonic chant resets my organism, my state, to newborn. Every single cell in my body is still resonating days after.
The food and wine is all organic, delicious and prepared with real love. The farmhouse is situated in the grounds of a former Cistercian Abbey with beautiful woods and lakes. This retreat is highly recommended.