Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bells of Mindfulness

-in my garden-

I keep a small Buddhist-style gong on the table in my office - a “bell of mindfulness” to be struck at the beginning of a designated period of meditation. The sounding bell reminds me that it is time to clear my mind and pay attention in the present moment.

Yesterday while driving my car, I realized that there are many “bells of mindfulness” in my life - some of them look like and sound like a Buddhist gong, while others offer less traditional calls to stop, breathe and pay attention.  

It may seem odd, but the local roads here in this little desert community where we live are literally “peppered” with an abundance of stop signs and signal lights. The local supermarket is only a few miles away from our house and yet in order to drive there I have to make my way through a total of 8 “stop” signs and 10 “signal lights.” Since I am already a fairly impatient driver, the simple experience of going to a supermarket is often quite aggravating and even grueling as I constantly stop and wait, and stop and wait.

Yesterday as I waited at one of those “endlessly long signal lights,” I asked myself why I was feeling so impatient? After all, my only destination was the market. I had no other appointments, no burning agenda to accomplish; and yet I just couldn’t wait for the light to change so I could “step on the gas” and move on.

I was then struck with a realization that the signal light was calling me to “stop in the present,” and maybe my anxiety about stopping at a red light is really an anxiety about stopping in the present moment.

The celebrated Buddhist author and teacher, Pema Chodron, has observed:

In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness.
We often want to get up and leave
 and even if we sit there our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds drift far away.
And yet this feeling of restlessness
can teach us an important lesson about what it means to be human.
We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience.
It goes against the grain to stay in the present.

This makes so much sense to me, and it reveals something about myself that I have always known but couldn’t quite put into words.

 Like most human beings, I really don’t want to stay in the nakedness of the present – somehow it makes me feel too exposed, perhaps too “out of control.”  And yet, it is precisely this experience of the present moment that lies at the very core of the spiritual journey. It is only when I can train myself to “stay and settle down” in the moment that I am able to experience greater truth and deeper wisdom - the revelation each moment has to offer.

As I stopped at one of those many signal lights yesterday I became aware that this light was indeed a “bell of mindfulness” for me,  and I immediately remembered something Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

When we see a red light or a stop sign
we can thank it because it is helping us to return to the present moment.
We may have thought of it as an enemy preventing us from achieving our goal.
But now we know the red light is a friend helping us to resist rushing,
calling us into the present where we can meet life with joy and peace.

Most people I know don’t have a Buddhist meditation bell in their homes, and lots of people tell me that they don’t have time for a lengthy period of reflection and contemplation every day. But almost every single one of us stops at a “red light.” The light is a bell of mindfulness - it calls us to “stop and settle down,” to spend a minute breathing into the moment:

Present Moment-Wonderful Moment

A great mantra to recite when waiting at that dreaded light – maybe I can learn to make that light my friend.

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