Kids Love Gongs: Sound Meditation Helps Children De-Stress
Apr 23, 2020 06:38PM
By Patricia Staino
Ed Cleveland has many stories that motivate him to bring sound healing experiences into Connecticut schools. After a session at Intensive Education Academy in West Hartford, which provides programs for students diagnosed with autism, developmental delay, dyslexia, visual or hearing impairment, ADD/ADHD and other challenges, a young boy recounted what he experienced as Cleveland played his instruments: “I was in a cave, and I could hear wind blowing, and water droplets were running down the cave walls and dripping onto the ground around me; there was a fire in front of me, and it was snapping and crackling. How did you do that?”
The other children exhaled as one, realizing they were not alone in having perhaps heard or witnessed such an experience, then grew excited about sharing their own reactions after listening to Cleveland play.
Ed Cleveland is the founder and owner of The Ed Cleveland Reiki & Sound Therapy Training Center located in Hartford. Cleveland offers individualized private and group sessions for adults and children of all ages, which include harmonic sounds, energy work and positive reinforcement instruction for continued self-empowerment and well-being. Years ago, when some of his meditation students asked if he would work with their children, he realized how powerful a program of meditative sound healing could be in schools.
“It helps them quiet their minds and boost their creativity and imagination,” he says. “This is something all kids need, because kids today are experiencing stress much earlier than we did, and it’s a big problem, with kids hurting themselves and even committing suicide.”
While Cleveland’s school programs, originally developed for children on the autism spectrum, follow a loose structure, he believes every experience is different, so he approaches each engagement anticipating the need to change as the session ebbs and flows. Prior to leaving home, he meditates on the instruments to decide which he should bring. Once at the school he sets up his own sacred space and prays on how he can best help the students who will attend. This intuitive vibe continues as the children file in and he gets a feel for what they are thinking and feeling.
“At Intensive, for example, there were 65 kids, ages six to 21, some with very high sensitivities,” he remembers. “As they entered the room, I could feel the tension, but I could also feel their curiosity toward the gongs. I’m trained to collectively meet people wherever they are; so, I watch them to see how I can get through to them. I let them know they might notice things they’ve never noticed before as I make different sounds. As they become more comfortable and start to respond, I change things slightly.”
Cleveland asks the students to notice their feelings as he plays, because he wants them to be able to remember a good feeling and find it in themselves when they feel sad or stressed in the future. He does exercises to show them how to use deep breaths to calm their thoughts, then refocus on something in the physical world around them to get them out of their heads. “Showing them how to focus on something beyond the fear-based situation they find themselves in is a powerful tool they can use moving forward,” he says.
At the end of the session, Cleveland asks the children to share their meditative experiences, and as a reward for good behavior, he lets them tap the gongs. “I ask them to respect the instrument the way they like to be respected,” he explains. “It’s great because they finish their day saying, ‘I got to play a gong, and I feel good!’”
The Power of Elemental Sound
The impact of Cleveland’s sessions derives from harmonic overtones that mimic natural, elemental sounds. Rather than following a musical protocol and playing familiar tunes, he uses instruments that produce ambient sound to allow spaciousness in the brain and provide the listener a new experience.
Harmonic overtones are mathematically spaced tones that are only audible when played on specific instruments. When they resonate throughout the human body, these frequencies induce physiological changes that can be harnessed for therapy and for altering consciousness. To this end, Cleveland has developed a sonic experience—a sound meditation—that accelerates this process through a deep, meditative state. The goal is to enable participants to disengage their undesirable habitual patterns and empower positive cognitive change.
“That’s where they leave behind the left brain’s thoughts of concerns, anger, fear and jealousy, and go to the right brain’s thoughts of comfort, relaxation and calm,” says Cleveland. “And once they’ve experienced that feeling, they can remember it when they need to be stronger inside. They can practice these skills until it comes easily, but they can’t find the path if they don’t know how the path feels.”
Bang a Gong
Giant gongs play a major role in Cleveland’s sonic meditations. Most people mistakenly think of gongs as crash symbols smacked at a single, isolated moment to emphasize a musical passage. “Those are the bangers and crashers on gongs, and that’s what I’m teaching people NOT to do!” he laughs.
Understanding the gong is critical in understanding the power of Cleveland’s sound programs in school.
Bronze gongs are Cleveland’s instrument of choice because they offer more sound than plate-metal gongs. Plate-metal gongs only operate in the second octave, which he likens to having a full piano but only using 12 of the keys. Cleveland’s very large gongs allow listeners to hear more of the microtonality sounds normally hidden within a smaller gong. The large bronze gongs are in the first octave, so when he taps them, he can take that low octave—like the bottom part of the piano—and make all kinds of sounds that go across the range of the whole piano. However, Cleveland can also reach an infinite amount of sounds that are the equivalent of the space between any two piano keys. Those sounds are incredibly valuable, he says, and if people aren’t experiencing them, they aren’t receiving the high form of mathematical information contained within them.
“You can actually feel it before you hear it, because it’s so low. I can just tap the gong and your body feels this rumbling coming from within you; that creates the mind-body-spirit connection. By using a variety of mallets, I’m literally creating millions of different sounds, because I get a different full piano at every point I hit, so when I’m playing for an hour, that number gets multiplied very quickly because there’s so much happening.”
According to Cleveland, as he continues tapping the gong, each sound interacts with all the other sounds, as a strike sends electrons shooting to the far side of the gong then back again, and the sound starts to create its own wave and pulse. Suddenly, it feels like sounds are coming from nowhere and everywhere, as all the sounds hit each other within the gong.
“This is what makes it unpredictable. As a facilitator, it’s like I’m now playing with a new musician that’s coming out of the instrument. And it’s interacting with the room, so all this high mathematical and sound information creates notes a person has never heard before, entering their body, feeding and nourishing the organs.”
There’s a channel on the left side of the ear that follows along a Sylvian fissure nerve. The sounds open and awaken the channel, sending the sounds’ complex mathematical information to the frontal lobe of the brain, which is the imagination center. It’s especially powerful for people on the spectrum, for whom the normal musical scale is too simplistic and, quite frankly, boring. For them, Cleveland says, the multitude of tones of a large gong is completely unpredictable, and when that valve opens, it’s tapping into the awakened dream state of the brain.
“And that’s the beautiful part,” he says, “because it awakens atrophies, which move around the brain and repair broken receptors. The sound awakens something that repairs damaged wiring in the brain. It makes you smarter.”
Teach Them How to Fish
Cleveland is now training other sound healers to help bring these special meditative sessions to schools. Each school session, which may last 60 to 90 minutes with the children, can take 10 hours of Cleveland’s day to pack, transport, set up, and break down. This can also be cost-prohibitive for him, because he loses time away from his day job. Training other practitioners will help balance the load, although he counts on community support through donations to make more of these healing sessions possible.
He is also hoping to organize a program where he can teach kids how to play Tibetan bowls, perhaps culminating in group concerts that would raise additional funds for the programs. Cleveland believes such classes could inspire a new generation of sound healers.
“It’s like energy work: I don’t want someone to have to come to me every time,” he says. “I want to help people raise their abilities so they can help themselves. The brain is always going, and that’s why people end up dwelling on certain things; but learning to quiet the mind or to follow a different sound opens that spaciousness. I want people to pay attention to different sounds that hold their attention and bring them to a new consciousness.”
To schedule a session with Ed Cleveland, or to donate to help him bring sound meditation to more Connecticut schools, call 860-681-3981, email [email protected]. See profile, page 34.
Patricia Staino is a freelance writer and the managing editor of Natural Awakenings’ Hartford and Fairfield County editions.