Why I am *not* a Sound Healer - Das Gongbad - The Gong Bath

Why I am *not* a Sound Healer

Sound healing. I see these words everywhere. I see bunches of people calling themselves ‘sound healers.’

I am *not* a sound healer.

Please understand, I am not here to criticize. People call themselves whatever they call themselves. It’s ok.

The short answer why I am not a sound healer?

To me, this whole thing is a mystery, and I am keenly aware that I don’t know what causes what and where it is all going. So if that is so, how can I call myself a sound healer?

This answer is too short. Below is the long story.



Oh, this magical life.

Here, it is March of 2022. If this were March of 1992, and you were in San Francisco, and you were brave enough to walk up the hill on the right side of lower Haight street past the public housing projects with its drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes and tough guys, police raids, random gunshots, and so on, you would eventually get to Fillmore Street. Pass Fillmore and you would be facing the glass door of the Cafe International.

If this was morning time, and you went in, you would see a young man at one far corner hunched over his journal, busy writing. That would be me, Alan Steinborn, age 27. If you looked toward the opposite corner, you would notice Tom Lipscomb.

You would be impressed. You would be astonished.  This man demands attention, just by sitting there.  With his mohawk haircut, his chiselled face, he looks just like the Indian of those old Diesel Jeans advertisements.

His blue eyes have the strength of an Eagle; eyes that see distances and can also pierce right through you. And that is not even discussing his body.  Oh yes,  he has the body of an adonis.  Add to this a sketch pad, a pack of clove cigarettes and a small pile of books by his side and you have Tom.

But actually, you still don’t have Tom. To fully imagine him, you need to picture vital masculine presence. That’s Tom.

Almost daily for 4 months we each took the table opposite each other in that cafe. We never spoke or even acknowledged each other. I don’t know why he never acknowledged me. I certainly know why I hadn’t acknowledged him.

I was way too shy to approach a God like that with so much as a hello.

I was interested in him, attracted by his power, and curious what he was sketching all that time, and what he was reading.

But there was no way I could approach him.

How? What to say? So it went on like this until the day in question.

On this day, I had written something I was proud of. A poem I wanted to share with someone. A friend stopped by to say hi, and I asked if she would hear my poem. She said she was too busy and distracted to give it attention.

After we said our goodbyes, I started writing again. Then I heard a voice. His voice. A baritone voice. ‘I’ll listen to your poem.’

No hesitation. I grabbed my journal, scooted over to his corner, and started reading.

When I finished, there was a pause. I looked up. He met me with those eyes and said: ‘It sounds like you are trying to find your voice. There is a thrill that comes with finding your voice. DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH THAT THRILL.’

And that began my friendship with this man who was to become one of the most important mentors of my life.

Tom was one of those people who tell you a single sentence and you think about it for years, or in my case, decades.

I could fill a whole book with stories and phrases from the great Tom Lipscomb, but we are already adrift from the topic – why I don’t call myself a ‘sound healer’ –  so I will give you the one thing he said to me that is relevant to our topic.

Here it is.

He once told me: ‘ Al Baby, (that is what he called me) Life is either a problem to be solved or a mystery unfolding.’

Hold on!

What was that again?

Life is either a problem to be solved, or a mystery unfolding.


I have thought about that sentence for 30 years. Life is either awe inspiring, beautiful, maybe even terrifying, beyond all capacity to understand it. A mystery.

This is true, even for science. The more science ‘pulls back’ the mystery, the more science realizes how little it knows.

But even with the overwhelming evidence that we don’t know much about much, there is a curious aspect to human nature.

Maybe the most miraculous and mysterious of aspects.

It is that even though this whole thing is obviously a mystery, we somehow manage to believe it is our job to solve it, to control it.

We treat life as a problem to be solved.

This is true of most every personal and professional pursuit there is, and it is acute in the world of ‘spiritual healing.’

Nowhere is the problem solving approach more contradictory than in spirituality.

Why? Because spirituality is the opposite of problem solving. It is realizing you are already perfect as you are. Alive in the mystery right now, and nowhere else. The main message of spirituality is that you are enough and need no additions, corrections, subtractions. It all belongs.

Problem solving is obviously important if you are at work as an engineer or doctor or teacher, or a parent wishing to be a better parent, whatever role you are playing can improved, no doubt, but when it comes to you yourself, your biggest problem is your obsession with yourself as a problem!

So what to do?

Focus on the mystery of it all.

That is my approach. I am all about the mystery. This extends to the gongs. When I work to solve problems with the gongs, to improve my gong playing, and I certainly do this quite a bit, it is all in the context of the mystery, and when I am giving a gong bath, the playing happens by itself. I simply need to let go and let flow.

It is after all a pure mystery.

I see myself as an artist. Art and mystery go hand in hand.

To me, the purpose of art is to remind us that this mystery is the source of the magic of being alive.

Dostoevsky wrote: ‘Art is as much a need for humanity as eating and drinking. The need for beauty and for creations that embody it is inseparable from humanity and without it man perhaps might not want to live on earth. Man thirsts for beauty, finds and accepts beauty without any conditions but just as it is, simply because it is beauty; and he bows down before it with reverence without asking what use it is and what one can buy with it’.

A gong bath is beautiful for its own sake, and doesn’t need to heal anything. As an experience of transcendent beauty, it is complete unto itself. That is its magic.

When the gong bath is over. Like everything else in life, it is gone. Done. As if it never existed.

A gong bath is a special kind of art in that it is as fleeting as the stars before sunrise. It exists, but only for a moment.

I feel it is this temporary existence that makes it so wonderful, so magical.

You just have to be there…as you are now!

It is this magic that I prefer to focus on.

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