Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's Up With the Bell?

Several times, I have been asked how come I don't use 'a bell' in my mindfulness work with clients.

The bell, or rather the sound of the bell, is such a part of the traditional meditative experience. As essential as cushion and timer, and noble silence. The bell invites us to step into a sacred space, where habitual ways of being dissolve, leaving room instead for awareness and experiencing of the now.  At the other end, the bell means returning to the habitual world of daily life. Such a lovely ritual . . . 

and also, something else, maybe not so useful.

I see the bell as yet another man made creation to separate practice from the rest of one's life. Another gadget to please our senses. Another potential source for trouble down the line, when there is no bell, and we are left with just ourselves.

This is why I like to encourage the ones I work with, to practice with no bell, no fancy cushion. Only oneself, and an ordinary place to sit. The main impetus for practice becomes one's intention, and sometimes the sitting together.

Practicing to practice any time, anywhere. No 'equipment' necessary. 

How is your relationship to the 'bell'?


  1. That's really interesting - I do love the bell when used at the end of breathing meditation sessions on retreats I attend. I can see the sense of what you say... but the bell helps me get centred.

  2. I do like to meditate to the sound of the bell myself :) And although I try to meditate everywhere whenever I remember, I do also enjoy my altar as a special, sacred place. Taking my shoes off, setting time aside deliberately to practice, it's a reminder and actually helps me. But integration is crucial. As my teacher says: meditation without integration is like cooking a delicious dinner and than throwing it in the bin without eating it.

  3. What happens when there is no bell? How do you practice mindfulness moment to moment during daily life?

    Just wondering . . .

  4. Dala Luz, yes, integration. I guess my feeling is what may help with formal practice (bell, altar, etc), is also what may be an obstacle to integration. There is this sense of 'now I am practicing', and then, once the bell rings, it is 'back to the grind of daily life' . . .

    1. That is not how I experience it. The whole idea is to bring it with you, the formal sessions are like a more intensive 'work out'. The bell, the altar, the mantra's, they are aids, but not what it's really about. But setting time apart and using skillful means do help me connect more deeply, which makes it easier for me to reconnect with that part throughout the day. I don't experience it as an obstacle. But like I said, teaches a lot about how to integrate your practice, a red light, a long line, a sudden burst of anger or sadness or greed or irritation, riding the buss, being honked at in the car, they can all serve as bell.

    2. Like anything, it is how you experience it . . . not being attached.

  5. Since I meditate alone I need a timer to stop my sitting, otherwise I'll only sit for a short period of time. How do you know how long to sit, or when to get up? I agree with the gadget comment, that's the last thing I want in meditation, but I don't know a better way.

  6. Yes, when meditating alone, I use a timer also. I have iPhone timer to signal end of allotted time.

    With my clients, or people in my caregiver training groups, I just invite them to join me and sit together quietly in their chair. Most of the time, I will guide them and when we get to the end, likewise, I let them know.

  7. I use a bell timer as well, but I don't feel like it gets in the way at all. Now, your point about sitting in a special way - that grabs me. I'm happy to sit either on a zafu or a bench, makes little difference to me. But it HAS to be on the floor! The thought of meditating in a Western style chair is a huge turn off for me. I've never tried it. So that means I should, and will. Thanks for the nudge.

  8. Not sure, you 'should'. It is all a matter of preference and feeling our way through the practice. Always correcting, being careful to not fall into delusion.

    In any case, let me know how it goes.