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Finding Sanctuary

Act 4 – The Haunting – January 31st, 2018

Sanctuary Exhibition at Fort Mason Chapel by the For-Site Foundation.

It was telling that I started my sound bath with a clip of Hayv Kahraman’s Sound Wounds, from a performance at the Asian Art Museum on August 25, 2016. Performed by Bay Area Arab Music Ensemble Aswat, the visual score mimicked the warning call of the siren, making light of the use of sound as a weapon. Looking back, those voice sirens had me really shook that night. I remember getting edgy and weird. I didn’t yet understand the power sound holds over me.

Audio Hayv Kahraman Sound Wounds filmed at Sanctuary from Christine Donley on Vimeo.

I just thought it would be interesting to bring the two experiences – the sounds wounds and the sound healing – together. Both nights were engaging with this talented artists through mediums outside of painting. Tonight I was physically on her beautiful rug with her beautiful ladies who have been compared to Japanese Kabuki and Mannerist figures painted in Islamic miniature style.  Writer Annette LePique described her women as living, breathing ghosts. “They are women in possession of an agency borne of indeterminacy, they are between worlds.”

My intention for the sound bath was to release some negative energy that has had me feeling no está bien. I had some really crappy things happen in 2017, but what surprised me was how long the negativity was sticking around.  I have recently started chakra clearing with sound instead of just visualization and it’s been very powerful at shifting intense energies out of my body so I was really looking forward to an uplifting experience. 

Loriel Starr is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, who takes a body-oriented approach to resolving the symptoms of trauma.  She instructed us to lay on our rugs and get comfortable. I tried laying on my back, I felt too exposed…like I was floating on a raft. On my side, no. I decided to go back into child’s pose; from there I was able to focus on the sounds. They were pleasant, soothing. 

“Don’t forget to take a picture for Instagram.” My mind kept wandering to the stupidest things within moments of getting into my “open headspace”. I wasn’t allowing myself to sink in – something quite easy after years of practice. There was a block.

I can’t tell you how she was making the sounds or even what they sounded like – you don’t watch the person perform, you feel it.

At one point I drifted off and jolted back to alertness to the thought explosive thought GOOGLE!! Like someone screamed it in my ear.  

What is that? What is this resistance?

Chatter, meaningless chatter, occupying my mind with stuff that doesn’t really matter.

I do it ALL THE TIME. What am I avoiding?

I had been feeling it strongly since the previous Sanctuary Salon. I experienced sound wounds, spirit wounds  … it was the ragged movement, the sorrow, the pain, the violation, the injustice, the heartbreak of betrayals toward one’s humanity set to sound and words. In my powerlessness, I found my own ghost. In the hands of Iraqi women, my body on their bodies and in their hands, I feel that feeling again and I recognize it from a million stabs of its presence over my lifetime. It’s still, frozen, shallow breathing, there no screams or tears, not even terror. I am suspended between life and death. It altered my life profoundly and yet I am supposed to pretend that everything was okay. To not let my trauma inconvenience others. To not go mad. To not distrust everyone.  To not give up.

The blessing in all this is that as I observed this experience, I didn’t shed a single tear. Despite the intensity of the sound bath and what was coming up for me, the perspective I was seeing was the string between trauma in the past and trauma in the present. I understand why I am the way I am. I understand why I think what I think and feel what I feel. AND THIS IS WHY WHEN IT HURTS – IT HURTS SO BAD. Because every hurt feels like it’s part of this original wounding. Every shitty human experience reinforces a belief inside me that the world isn’t a safe place, that people can’t be trusted, that I won’t be seen or heard or protected.

And that frozen part of me doesn’t realize despite being hurt, disappointed, betrayed, and violated again and again in life, I’m OKAY. I’m actually doing “it”…living, loving, fighting. I’ve just lived my life as one continuous trauma – one long separation from feeling safe and wanted.

The thing about a song bath is that there are gongs, and bowls, and bells and one minute you’re deep in one place and then DING – you’re in another.

Now I was back to 2003.  I’m pretty sure it was Democracy Now that was reporting from Baghdad as American and European anti-war activists were evacuating the city because Shock and Awe was about to commence. Thinking back to it is still one of the most deeply disturbing events my adult life –  The march to war, the fake news, #manufacturingconsent – I was watching people who were going home to hide, to take cover against bombs for crimes they did not commit.  Everyone was crying, and the Iraqis were comforting their friends who were leaving to the safety zone. Just as Hayv’s women are doing for me now.  Everything changes yet everything stays the same. 

Back in Sanctuary, I am connecting to Baghdad. I feel like I’m taking cover, crouched on the ground. I am connecting to all the people who have found themselves in the dark, hiding for their lives, caught between life and death, not safe, no sanctuary. 

I thought about all the people who have come out of hiding for their lives… from war, from fires and floods, and oppression. So many of us are walking around with trauma from what we’ve survived – and yet we can be so cruel and so unforgiving with one another. I was so deeply in it and it all came to an end. 

With a few gongs, the sound bath was over. It felt too soon for me… I felt caught between worlds, unresolved. I needed release.

I went over to Ala Ebtekar’s rug,  Makan (a sense of place). Makan depicts the cosmos and doorways to transcendent experiences. A fitting place to end this holistic journey of sound, fine art, craft, story, and personal experience in a setting that was simultaneously meditative and embodied.  But I wasn’t feeling up in the cosmos – I was feeling rooted to the earth.  I needed to bring these experiences together. 


“The piece provides a contemplative space where the personal psyche can connect with the cosmic spirit, where the earthly and the celestial can meet, and where ancient tradition can intersect with imaginings of the future.”

As everyone else was gathering their things and walking out, I laid down once again and breathed in and out. My imagination went to another dark place,  lit up with stars and gateways. I had been here before. When my father-in-law died and I listened to Space Odyssey for 2 weeks thinking about his transition and making commitments to ease his worries, and then again when my grandmother was dying but still in limbo between life and death. I could feel them both in this space, and now I was here too. So I just breathed – and prayed that whoever I found on this sound journey, may your heart and mind be clear of pain and suffering.  That’s what I do here — transform experiences from painful to a potential for something new. 

In the cosmos, quantum reality is clear – we, like everything else, are nothing but pure potential to be shaped into whatever we desire. There’s always another choice waiting to created from your beautiful imagination. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. 

It also reminds us that we are human, we are stardust, and in our universe, nothing is ever really separate, and a shattered heart is still whole – it can be the entire universe if you let it. 

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