Some Bells of Mindfulness for the New Year

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Thursday Evening Online Program
January 5, 2023 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time

Dear Still Water Friends,

“Winter reveals what is hidden,” said a woman in my morning meditation group. In our Dharma sharing, she described walking by the bush near her front entrance and realizing that it hosted a bird’s nest that she’d never noticed before. She imagined eggs in the nest, the new life waiting to hatch out.

I expressed to the group my excitement that my sister got engaged on Christmas Day. This feels especially sweet because one of my sister’s previous partners died in a traumatic accident fifteen years ago. The journey from that death has been long and challenging, and this feels like a new beginning in my sister’s life. Another person shared that his daughter is five-and-half months pregnant. The app his daughter uses describes the size of her fetus as about the same as that of a Napa Cabbage! And finally, a couple shared their joy in playing with and gifting a mermaid dress to their four-year old great-niece who loves to dance. Their visit with her was especially poignant because her mother, at just thirty-six, has metastasizing cancer. I asked the sangha participants in that morning’s group for permission to share our stories because they illustrate so beautifully how those moments that give us both a pause and shift in perspective function as bells of mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes in Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet about the power of bells of mindfulness in the practice:

In our mindfulness practice centers and monasteries, whenever we hear the sound of a bell, we return to our breathing, and we return to the present moment. We stop talking, we stop doing whatever we’re doing, we relax our body, release any tension, and begin to follow our breathing. The bell—whether it is the great temple bell, the clock in the dining hall, or a bell of mindfulness on our phone or computer—gives us an opportunity to stop and look deeply. The simple act of breathing and listening to the bell is a way to train ourselves in the art of stopping. In just two or three breaths we wake up to what is going on inside us and around us. The bell invites us to see that we are the world, we are the cosmos; there is no separation. We embrace limitless space and infinite time, and that moment becomes an eternal moment; we do not lack anything. The past, the present, and the future are all contained in this moment.

As we start a new year, we often make a resolution list that consists of tasks we need to accomplish. What would it be like to let go of our list and take a moment to stop, breathe, and notice all that is happening inside and around us in the present moment? Can we learn to view surprising interruptions as invitations to be alive to the present moment? As gentle reminders, our bells of mindfulness in everyday life might be a telephone ringing, a red light at a traffic stop, or, for me, the cat choosing an unexpected time to leap into my lap and purr so I’ll pet her.

This year, I would like to practice regularly with Thay’s “Waking Up” gatha that reminds us to dwell in the present moment:

Waking up this morning, I smile.

Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment

And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

I notice that when I incorporate a practice of pausing in my daily life, I improve at recognizing and appreciating mindfulness bells, such as my sister’s engagement.

This Thursday evening, after our regular meditation, we’ll explore these questions in our Dharma sharing:

  • What are your everyday bells of mindfulness?
  • How have they impacted your life in the last year?
  • How would you like to practice with bells of mindfulness in the new year?

Below you will find an excerpt by Thay about daily mindfulness.

I hope you can join us.

Peace and Blessings,

Eliza King

An excerpt from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
(Commentary on the gatha “Letting Go”)

Every day there are ways in which we get caught in attachments, and so we continue to suffer. If only we could learn the art of releasing, happiness would come right away. Our worries and concerns prevent us from getting in touch with the wonders of life. We have all had the experience of being reminded of what is most important to us. Sometimes we are reminded by a friend or a teacher. Sometimes it may be the sound of the bell, bringing us back to ourselves in the present moment, enabling us to see the situation more clearly. Then we can let go of our worry, craving, or concern, so we can be free to encounter the wonders of life that are always there in the here and the now.