What better place than a serene retreat in Kenya to immerse yourself in sound meditation, the ‘it’ healing practice sweeping the wellness world? Our contributor tunes in and chills out. By Pilar Guzmàn
Stepping out onto the terrace at Segera, a luxury lodge in Kenya’s Laikipia highlands, we spotted a trio of reticulated giraffes loping towards us as if beckoned by some invisible conductor. There was certainly music: a 19th-century gong was still reverberating in the room behind us. I was one of a group of 12 guests who had just finished a sound-meditation session in the second-floor lounge of Segera’s main lodge. When they caught sight of us, the giraffes lowered their necks like party crashers trying not to call too much attention to themselves.
My group consisted of well-heeled travellers from Paris, Dubai, New York City, Cape Town, and Beirut, Lebanon. We were at Segera for a retreat hosted by Roar Africa CEO and founder Deborah Calmeyer, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe. Well-known for pushing the conventions of safari beyond game drives and sundowners, Calmeyer is among the first travel experts on the continent to tap into the wellness zeitgeist.
Sound meditation is a practice that replaces the noise pollution of the modern world with healing reverberations. It’s not the kind of wellness approach I would typically have bought into, but like so many of us, I had emerged from last year looking for ways to calm my rattled nerves. I started meditating in March of 2020, then tried a sound-therapy session and learned how, when exposed to certain music, the brain enters a ‘theta state’—that barely conscious realm we experience just before falling asleep and just after waking, when the mind is especially receptive to growth and restoration.
There can be few better environments to practise sound meditation than the Kenyan savannah, where the only commentary comes from the trees, the wind, and the wildlife. Tucked between Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley, Laikipia is one of East Africa’s most important migration corridors. Segera was a cattle ranch until 2005, when German businessman Jochen Zeitz, formerly CEO of Puma and now head of Harley- Davidson, bought the property and restored its 50,000 acres. Fences were removed and endemic species, like the African wild dog and reticulated giraffe, were reintroduced. Today, Segera is again vibrating with life, and the lodge, which is designed like a village, feels like a haven in the heart of the bush.
Having chosen the perfect location, Calmeyer devised a sound-meditation programme that cherry-picked spiritual and cultural traditions from places as disparate as Armenia and Australia. The technique—a favourite among Silicon Valley CEOs—combines breathing and visualisation exercises with the sounds of Himalayan singing bowls, gongs, chimes, zithers, various drums and shakers, and even a didgeridoo.
Before the session started, we each lay down on one of the mattresses set out in a semicircle, and were encouraged to set an intention: a phrase to anchor us on our journey. This could be something big, like trying to get at the root of one’s anxiety surrounding change, or it could be small, like prioritising time to keep a journal. Mine was to come to terms with raising a newly independent teenage boy who, until just a couple of years ago, had never wanted to leave my side. We each placed a notebook and pen beside us to write down whatever might come up, then closed our eyes.
We were told that the quickest way to turn inwards and enter a relaxed, introspective state is to listen to instruments that produce harmonic overtones. These are the high, vibrating sounds you hear when someone plucks a sitar string or strikes a gong, for example. We began by focussing on the sounds of singing bowls, and the recording of an instrument called duduk played by Armenian composer Djivan Gasparyan. After just a few minutes, I saw the red dots on the inside of my eyelids I used to see at night when I was a child. The vision took me back to the age of seven, when I was haunted by unfounded fears about the health of my maternal grandmother.
By turns hopeful, nostalgic, and hypnotic, the sounds of gongs and singing bowls were interspersed with recordings of Byzantine chants and the low, mournful voice of the Bhutanese Buddhist Lama Gyurme. Flashes of a young, healthy version of my father, who died 14 years ago after a long illness, suddenly came to me. Then, a veritable flip-book of images of my son as an infant, a toddler, and all the way up to the present day, played behind my eyelids. I felt for a split second his toddler’s hand clutching my hair as he pressed his cheek against mine.
After the session, the group dined together in Segera’s lobby-cum-art-gallery (Zeitz is also one of the world’s biggest collectors of African art). Dinner was platters of Ottolenghi -style salads made with the fruits of the kitchen garden. I sat next to a woman who said that during the sound journey she had, for the first time, felt compassion for her estranged mother. On my other side was a woman who told me that she felt something akin to self-acceptance after a lifetime of battling body dysmorphia.
Walking back to my room, I spotted two of the three reticulated giraffes that had sidled up to our ceremony earlier. I thought back to a discussion about the physics of resonance earlier that day. In addition to the physiological rhythms we can see, feel, and measure, like circadian rhythms, breath, and heartbeats, our bodies experience countless smaller vibrations that take place on a cellular level. And these can profoundly affect how we function and feel.
Watching the giraffes head off into the bush, I found myself acutely aware of the way our cells resonate, not only in response to sound but to other people, to birds, trees, and insects. I finally got what sound-meditation practitioners mean when they say, “We become one with it.”
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