“We don’t meditate,” said Michael Joly as he and his sweetheart Alene Sibley sat at my dining room table in Oak Bluffs in early January. These two free spirits, Michael an engineer of audio products with his own studio in Hyannis, and Alene, intuitive coach, jewelry designer, and cartoon illustrator, are clearly seekers, but not the kind that spend untold hours on yoga cushions.
Michael is expressing what I’ve come to see lately as a new trend. All the old and venerable spiritual masters, as well as virtually all the more contemporary teachers, have laid down a strict formula: First you plunk yourself down and meditate. A lot. And then meditate some more. But so many students have found the practice so tiresome, and themselves so fidgety, it becomes an insurmountable barrier. They shrug and decide the whole spiritual thing is not their cup of cafe latte.
Even one of the great mystics of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley, in his astoundingly wise and soul-ennobling book “The Perennial Philosophy,” cast gentle aspersions on a practice of all mediating, all the time, as yielding mere “quietism.” (I think quietism means what it sounds like: calm without the great love that “passeth all understanding”).
And now Michael and Alene have developed a sound system called N.O.W. that, in my humble opinion, has miraculously packed the normal 50 to 60 minutes of meditation into three-minute listening increments that, to paraphrase that old song, “lifts us higher than we’ve ever been lifted before!”
But first, the sheer romantic love story that yielded this new technology. Michael grew up in N.E. Connecticut, and he renders a quick tutorial: “This is not the Connecticut of the affluent. I came of age in a small French Canadian mill town. Jack Kerouac was my patron saint” (also of a French Canadian mill town, Lowell).
Alene is the Vineyard almost-native of this love story: Her grandfather built a small home in a family compound in West Tisbury. When Alene was 7 — obviously a wonderful age to begin a migration to the Island — her family took up residence in grandpa’s starter house. Fast-forward a few decades, then rewind to two years ago, when Alene and Michael met — she 49, he 59 — at an open market on Cape Cod.
In Alene’s words, “I was selling my jewelry, and along comes this guy in a straw fedora, with a Yorkshire terrier on an insanely long training leash that kept wrapping around things. This went on the entire time he wandered the market, this leash business, while Michael was oblivious. He seemed in every way exotic for the Cape, relaxed and adventurous.”
In Michael’s words, “At first glance, Alene stood out as radiantly glowing, I think from this energy of being illuminated by herself and what she was doing and in her self-expression. She had a great story that went along with her craft [she works with specially painted and preserved banana slices], and people would gather at her table. There seemed to be a buzz. She was introduced to me by an old friend, and I immediately found her to be differently open, welcoming, and someone who was interested in hearing my stories right off the bat.”
Alene further explains, “Several weeks went by of occasional meetings at these markets, and then there was an invite to a walk on the beach. He wanted to go EARLY! I pushed him to 8:30 — you would have thought it was 1 pm. So I got up earlier than usual, and he walked later than usual, and the rest is our little history.”
Their time differences notwithstanding, the two fell in love, and made the bold plan to transplant themselves to Alene’s grandpa’s house in West Tisbury.
And with change and putting down new stakes, the possibility for exciting projects intensifies. Michael had begun work on a theory of “transformation of acoustical energy” into a pair of sound pods. (Yes, this genius-speak can be overwhelming.) It began with journaling what he’d been doing, rife with essays on the unconscious, and sound engineering as the conductor of such.
He and his new love, as mentioned, possessed diametrically opposed circadian rhythms; he’s an early bird, she a night owl, so that when Alene woke up late in the morning or early afternoon, Michael shared everything he’d been tweaking in the past hours. Then when she dove exhausted into bed at three in the morning, Michael, boinking his eyes open, read his journal extracts and played new sound stylings. Alene, rather than mumbling, “That’s good, babe,” would offer truly prescient feedback.
Out of this unique collaboration came the N.O.W. Tone Therapy System.
Picture two orbs the size of bells we ring to summon hotel clerks, but they’re heavy as their weight in gold, and elegantly designed with stainless steel bands and smart, diminutive speakers. Each is activated by pressing a button, which in turn yields a blinking blue light. Next, harmonium sounds emerge.
My own initial thoughts, when given a pair to deal with my own demons — mostly insomnia and S.A.D. — occurred to me in my dark room past midnight: “Wow! These blue lights are unreal! The sound from one pod seems to work synergistically with the other! But how could they? This is a mini R2-D2 and an equally squat C-3P0, here to guide me to sleep and sweet dreams.” And they did!
The creators, tall, thin, and attractive, make a charismatic pair. They’re fully supportive of one another, although they maintain they’re hardly peas in a pod. Michael is the contemplative one, full of scholarly references, from Marcus Aurelius to Eckhart Tolle to Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. And then it’s back to the science and the music of his small spheres as he throws out lines like, “This creates a tuning of C256 and places A at 432 —” OK. This is when Alene, in her full-throated voice, seems to clap her hands like a tour guide and lead us onto a more grounded trail. This doesn’t mean that Michael hasn’t launched on a new trail of his own, perhaps touching on “Pythagorean harmonic series” or “neuromodulation technology.”
At this point Alene tells me that the N.O.W. system is available on Amazon — the cost is $149, and even I, an impoverished reporter, know that’s a steal for you or any of your friends, or your melancholic Aunt Helene. Both inventors will help Islanders to acquire the ethereal pods at discounts from local retailers.
More to be revealed. To visit Michael and Alene virtually and to learn more about this new technology, log on to nowbysolu.com.
And now excuse me while I go check in with my new harmonic E.T. orbs or, as Alene calls the set, “God in a can.”