There are strange goings on in the desert. And hell, that’s what I like about the place. But one of the strangest I’ve encountered was in Landers, a 20-mile drive north of Joshua Tree down very long, very straight, very dusty roads. I was, if all went to plan, going to a ‘sound bath’ on the site of a geo-magnetic vortex in the Mojave desert.
A little context first. A WWII Flight Test Engineer by the name of George Van Tassel moved himself and his family to the desert in 1947, in the land beside Giant Rock, an enormous boulder in Joshua Tree. As others escaped the city life and were drawn to the otherworldly vibes of Giant Rock, Van Tassel held group meditations there, during which he believed he was contacted by extra-terrestrial beings. These beings gave him the designs for a machine that would channel the energies of the desert to rejuvenate human cells and extend life spans. Why? Their reasoning was that humans only reached wisdom and clarity in old age, so another 50 years will allow us to utilise those tools and improve the state of humanity. It was a message that resonated, at least with the thousands that attended Van Tassel’s annual UFO Conventions, and thanks to their donations he was able to fund building this 16-sided wooden dome – an energy transmitter and cell charger – just as the extra-terrestrials instructed.
Welcome to the Integratron.
It was still early when I pulled into the dusty car park, but the day was already hot. I stepped into the shade of the Integratron’s check-in office.
“How’d you get through the gate?” came a man’s voice.
“I let myself in,” I said.
“We keep the gate closed to keep people out,” said the man, counting a stack of receipts. I apologised and made to come back, but his tone was jovial rather than gruff and he insisted I stay in the reception, where it was cool. I noted his long grey goatee and recognised him as the bartender at Landers Bar, where friends had taken me at the weekend. I reminded him we’d met.
“Since I couldn’t get a reservation for the sound bath you mentioned I should come down one morning and see if there’s a free space, as sometimes people don’t show up. So, here I am.”
Boo, as he introduced himself, works at a few iconic Joshua Tree sites, but told me how he’s started covering shifts at Landers for the usual guy (“the one with the cowboy hat”) who was in Texas with his band. We got on to the subject of music, and the local music festival happening this weekend.
“Any blues bands?” I enquired.
“Unfortunately not,” said Boo. “Blues is my favourite.”
I nodded: “Mine too.”
“So,” he said, turning to the day’s reservations list. “How many in your party?”
He did some math, then scribbled my name at the bottom.
Outside the office is the hammock garden, a place to hang out while waiting for your session in the Integratron. Hammocks hung this way and that in the sheltered courtyard. I climbed into one, cradled entirely by the faded striped canvas, and rocked gently back and forth, the desert winds blowing over the top of me, while listening to the rhythmic soprano squeak of hammocks creaking in the breeze. I thought about energy fields and channelling other life forces – while I don’t believe in UFOs I think we do all transmit and receive different energy. Regardless, I was open to whatever was going on here.
It was cool and dark inside the Integratron and, shoes removed, each person clambered up a ladder to the floor above. There, below the high wooden dome, cushioned mats were splayed out in a circle, and everyone selected a cotton blanket in their favourite colour. Our guide for the sound bath, a retired deep-tissue massage therapist, sat cross-legged amid a circle of pale quartz bowls of various sizes. I lay down on my mat, pulled the blanket over me, placed my hands on my belly and stared up at the hole in the top of the dome, watching dust particles hover in the circular beam of sunlight it threw down. The guide told us the story of George Van Tassel, how the Integratron worked, and what was about to take place. (Some of us might fall asleep, he said, and any snorers should be politely shaken.)
While the Integratron itself channels energy from the geo-magnetic vortex below, the sound bath would, so we were told, move that energy through us five times more quickly. He was going to play different notes on the bowls and each one would tap into a different part of our bodies – from A in our heads to G in the solar plexus. We should try to express love to ourselves and be open to our higher consciousness.
“Don’t think of us as human beings having a spiritual experience; rather, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
And then, the music began.
My ears drowned in the strangest sound; a gentle note but so loud it filled my head. Other notes washed in like the tide, and out again. Vibrations hummed through my body and I lost all track of time. The hole in the dome looked like an eye to me. And I stared back. It was hypnotic and soothing.
Once I closed my eyes I began to look at the darkness behind my eyelids as a symptom of my own state of being. Be more open, came the voice in my head. As my mind attempted to part the darkness, I realised it was jungle, overgrown, blocking the light, and I made great efforts to hack through it and let the light in. Be more open to giving and receiving, came the voice and curiously, I realised my hands were now at my sides, palm-up. Let the light in, I thought.
I was surprised just how many people did indeed start snoring. The young woman next to me began with a low, back-of-the-sinuses purr which gradually became louder, and despite an extended effort to ignore it, my focus was being pulled away from the progress of hacking at my mental jungle, to the sound of the buzz-saw in my ear. Finally I was compelled to give the girl a gentle prod. She awoke, looking at me with all the surprise of someone who, well, has just woken up on the floor of the Integratron.
Eventually the reverberations of the quartz bowls came to a stop and recorded meditation music was played, a chance for everyone to come back to the present in their own time. Slowly, people rose, padded across the room and descended the ladder. When I stood up to leave myself, I looked over at the circle of quartz bowls. The guide had gone.
Emerging from the building into the heat and the light, I felt a little slow, drowsy even. I’d considered stopping by the reception to say thanks again to Boo for fitting me in, but he was busy checking in the next session’s arrivals, and I realised I didn’t want to speak. Getting in the car I also didn’t want to listen to any music, as I always do. I wanted to hold onto whatever I was experiencing: a feeling of total calm, total relaxation, awake but not quite present. It occurred to me that I had been relieved of every ounce of anxiety.
Had I really tapped into my own energy fields via the geomagnetic currents of the desert? Or, was it simply that I’d meditated? There’s a part of me that wants to be cynical, in defence of my pride – it’s hippy nonsense! Dreamed up by some UFO-nut! – but I’ve meditated before and it’s never left me in such a deep state of otherworldly calm. So who knows? Whatever it was, I drove all the way home, down the long, straight desert roads, in complete silence, just the faint sound of the quartz bowls still ringing in my ears.
That evening my usual anxiety returned, namely as soon as I logged into Twitter. So I deleted the app from my phone and the calm returned a little. That’s when I had another realisation: that channelling magnetic energy from the earth under the instructions of extra-terrestrials didn’t seem so preposterous once I considered how much time I waste communicating with strangers on the virtual reality machine I keep in my pocket.
I wonder what George Van Tassel would make of that.