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The Sound Journey - Daniel O'Leary

I’ve got no idea what the Sound Journey will consist of but I envision lines from bottle-blonde yogis or the wistful instructions of food blog writers:

Pull in a breath and let it find the space in your body that needs it.


Determining stew thickness is a personal journey!

I can only hope that any cynicism that bubbles up on my part will be expelled as a harmless burp or quiet fart.

When we walk up to the beach where the Sound Journey is to take place there is a young gal in wood-camo cargo pants using a shovel – in the style of a guillotine – to chop the head off a dead seal. I don’t think my girlfriend and her sister see this yet so I’m trying to figure out if “decapitate” applies only to something that is living or if it’s applicable in this situation when my girlfriend’s sister asks what the young gal is doing.

“I think she’s trying to chop that seal’s head off,” I say.

She balks, my girlfriend balks, and I’m still coming to terms with it so we stand for a moment watching from afar as the shovel plunges again and the young gal continues hacking.

“See what she’s up to?” I ask and my girlfriend’s sister walks over to the large mound of dark blubber. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I set up our blankets for the Sound Journey. The other participants are setting up as well: some find their centers on yoga mats, others sit right on the sand facing the sunset, and one gray-haired man in a flat-brimmed Stetson blows life into a small fire.

Reach into your chests and find your hearts then let’s lift those hearts up.

My girlfriend and I pop beers and wait for an out-of-town friend and also wait for her sister to return with seal news. Mostly, though, we wait for the Sound Journey to begin.

The lady who leads the Sound Journey is ferrying large crystals bowls from her compact car to a set of tables she’s set up at Moran Lake Beach and every time she brings out a singing bowl from her trunk I think surely there cannot be another size larger but there is. By the time she’s finished setting up, she’s got six bowls arrayed around her like a drum set and she looks very serious making her final preparations. Her bowls are of shining white quartz and every stitch of her clothing is Easter white and her hair, though blonde, appears shimmering white when it’s perched up amongst all that brightness.

Our friend arrives – we shove a beer at him – followed quickly by the return of my girlfriend’s sister who explains that the young gal with the shovel is trying to cut off the seal’s head so she can take the thing and bury it in her yard. She wants bugs (worms and beetles and ants and my powers of imagination concerning bugs stops there) to strip the head down to the skull for artistic purposes. We learn that the gal is having a hard time of it, though, and will need to come back with a saw: she is worried someone else will come and take the seal’s head so she’s using the shovel to cover the body with strips of kelp.

Simmer until the house is fragrant and the windows fog up (about 2 hours).

I’d love to dive into all of this, into any portion of this seal chat, but the lady leading the Sound Journey begins rubbing on her bowls with a pair of short wooden batons. The bowls start reverberating, humming, singing: each has its own distinct pitch and she moves her wands in a deliberate way to create a chorus of the bowls. Despite the number of people attending the Sound Journey – maybe forty all told – there is an established calm from the group as we listen to the bowl music set against the subdued music of the ocean meeting the beach. No one is talking, the Sound Journey leader is lost in her craft, the gal chopping at the seal departs.

The silence in me salutes the silence in you.


We’re working with fewer ingredients here, so QUALITY MATTERS!

The sun is setting and everything goes cherry while the scent of the old man’s small fire reaches us: he’s burning some sort of incense logs and I look for him in the smattering of individuals on the beach. He’s seated right next to the biggest of the singing bowls with his head a few inches from the thing: he must be able to feel the vibrations in his teeth. Obviously the man is on a higher plane than I and I wish him the best.

May you be happy and free, your thoughts and actions supporting this.

“I wanted you to see this,” my girlfriend says in a stage whisper to our out-of-town friend at some point in the Journey. “It’s the most Santa Cruz thing I could think of.”

And it really is. There are plenty of certified Santa Cruz schticks: redwood raves, cliff-side tutu trains, beach cleanups and paddle outs, clocktower war protests (any war), homeless gardens, Bigfoot museums and Mystery Spots, homeless encampments…but this one feels different. It’s endearing and thorough, unhurried in its display of eccentricity. The lady leading us, the old man in the Stetson, the gal with the shovel, the other silently hip folk in attendance: they’re all uninterested in visuals, have no need for pretensions. I think they’ve all found something whether they know it or not. They possess that authenticity, that fleeting feeling of wholeness which makes everything so much more sincere. They’ve hacked meaning out of a seal carcass, they’ve found peace in the rubbing of bowls.

Make stew when you have the time to indulge in the meditative qualities of chopping, sautéing, reducing, braising, waiting, and tasting.

Folks find meaning in everything: in crystal reverberations, in sitting on the beach with friends, in climbing mountains, in drinking and yoga and cooking, in drugs and in children, in good books and the good book, and in a whole slew of things I can’t even imagine. People, I’m sure, find meaning and peace in breeding pugs. I’m beginning to think I find meaning in all these individual acts.

Om, om, really speak from your feet, say it from your toes, om.

What’s it to me to judge the places where people see what’s right in the world? If your perfection is riding a mountain bike down the side of a cliff while slaloming between trees, do I need to fit into that? If you rub the sides of crystal bowls or bathe in incense smoke or collect mammal skulls do I need to figure out every little bit of it? No harm no foul, do good, be yourself, etc., etc., om, om.

However you do it, this savory mutton stew has totally got your back.

All of these beauties with all of their small intimate joys give me something back that I’ve lost or maybe never had. I am quite happy for them in a large way and happy for myself in a confused way.

When the Sound Journey ends an hour later, I feel like I’ve got a bubble forming in my gut and I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling or what I’d like to feel going forward but I say, “That was certainly something,” and my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s sister, our out-of-town friend, and I all share a laugh and talk about dinner. I need to go somewhere to digest this all and figure out where my seal carcass is.


Daniel O'Leary is an MFA Candidate in the Creative Writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. He lives and writes out of Santa Cruz, CA and enjoys penning and sending nonsensical postcards.

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