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Bowled Over

As the vibrating sound of the rubbed metal bowl reaches a high pitch, the people sitting cross-legged on the floor get quieter. They're meditating, using the sweet harmonious sound of the bowl to calm their minds and help them concentrate. Something new? Hardly -- the Tibetan singing bowl is more than a thousand years old.

The bowls, which come in various sizes and thicknesses, are hammered out of seven metals that correspond to the seven planets of Tibetan astrology. They're made to "sing" by rubbing the bowl's brim with a vajra, a wooden stick sometimes covered with felt. It's a bit like filling glasses with differing amounts of water and running your finger around the brim.

The pure vibrations of the bowls are used to diagnose illnesses, heal, purify, make music, and, most directly, meditate. It is believed that the natural, harmonious, and deep sound of the bowl is like hum, the sound that permeates space, according to Tibetan tradition.

If you'd like to know how SoBe artist Robert Miller hears the song of the bowls, check out his painting exhibition, "Lama Norlha," in the sixth-floor gallery of the Broward Main Library in Fort Lauderdale. Dedicated to Lama Norlha Rinpoche, master of the Kagya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, the exhibit features almost three dozen very large, very similar canvases of brightly colored stripes, seemingly applied with a palette knife, that look like sound waves.

In the 1980s, Miller was engrossed in painting literal representations of singing bowls, but because he saw the troubles of the world leaking out of the bowls, the paintings were small, dark, and chaotic. A decade later, a stay in India and the observation of daily Buddhist practice lifted him out of depression; his subsequent paintings became large, bright, and positively cheerful.

If, on the other hand, you'd like to learn to meditate using the singing bowls yourself, Robert Stein conducts a monthly Sunday workshop in Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation at Secret Woods Nature Center in Dania Beach. The Plantation resident is a student of kabbalah as well as a practitioner of singing-bowl meditation. Because so little is known about the origins and early use of the singing bowls, Stein has felt free to use them to aid in his interpretation of kabbalistic doctrine. For example, he uses ten bowls during the workshop, formed into the Hebrew tree of life but also conforming to the seven Hindu chakras. Stein is a pleasant fellow, eager to share his insights, and Secret Woods is a perfect spot in which to meditate. He'll even take you on a "walking meditation" along the nature center's boardwalks in an effort to get you in tune with the beauty around you.

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Tomi Curtis

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