The Inner Bell of Mindfulness

Disturbance arising within us can be transformed into our own personal mindfulness bell.

The Inner Bell of Mindfulness

Some monasteries have a Dharma Bell which rings at regular intervals to remind people to stop and be mindful and present. From Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village, there is even a Plum village app and browser extension that rings a virtual mindfulness bell for you.

Outer Technology is fantastic, but sometimes the Inner Technology can be even greater.

As a big techie myself I rely on a lot of tech, and I build it too. But I'm not under some religious delusion about how tech is the answer to everything.

On the ultimate level, yes the inner and outer are one, but for the sake of drawing attention to the often neglected inner half of reality, lets imagine the two divided. The inner is hard to see, that's why we practice being un-distracted by the outer and paying attention to the inner specifically.

Like the Dharma Bell, the Inner Bell also rings regularly for us and doesn't require installing an app or being on retreat at a monastery. It includes the arising of: Agitation. Tightness. Defensiveness. Aversion. Blaming. Anger. Desire. Craving. Rumination, Forcing. Confusion. Suffering. Lack of clarity, and more. It is resistance and movement away from the contentedness that is our undisturbed natural state.

When we simply notice these appearances without judging, without trying to get rid of them, or run away from them, or cover them up - then they are transformed into the Inner Bell.

The Inner bell is very easy to miss. Partly because it rings in ways which are not so pleasant as the sound of an outer bell.

When we notice it, we get a chance to question whether our Anger is really due to something someone else did, or whether our Craving is really there due to the lack of what we crave. Since we live in a relatively safe and physically comfortable world (compared to our evolutionary roots), most of the time such suffering arises due to our conditioning, but we rarely get to stop long enough to notice that.

Once that habit of looking outside and blaming all our feelings on those external things becomes very ingrained, it's hard to drop it. Even if you solve your problem by manipulating the outside world, it only reinforces that habit, and sets you up for even greater suffering later. That's why there is no end to it. You will simply get agitated by increasingly trivial things. Hence my favorite analogy of it being a treadmill.

The Inner bell reminds us to question, to wonder, to look below the surface, to let go. To see things objectively, as a movie being played in front of us rather than being heavily involved. It gracefully pulls us out of the raging river of emotion so we can respond effectively. Or more often, let go of something that doesn't really matter as much as we thought it did. We may then clearly realize we already have everything we need as long as we stop spoiling it with wasteful trains of thought arising from conditioning, and those patterns are less likely to reoccur in future. We are stepping off the treadmill.

When you meditate, don't be discouraged if you drift off. The second you notice you drifted off, even if it was for the whole session, you are meditating perfectly. Your inner bell rang and you noticed,

Just listen to its "signature sound" and become familiar with it. Become present again. And again and again and again... That's the whole practice of meditation in a nutshell, That's it. Try not to do anything else other than that.

It gets easier, everything settles with time. Persist at the start, until it becomes unnecessary. Intentionally craft your life and say no to distraction and excessive sense-stimulation. At some point you wont need to sit formally to meditate, you will simply use whatever activity is going on as your "meditation in motion". The subtle art of non-doing becomes increasingly familiar and present.

Don't expect to ever be free from all suffering either. That expectation itself could be subtle aversion, so see if you can recognize and use it as a mindfulness bell too. Certain ups and downs are a part of life experience. We can simply get better at not creating imaginary suffering, and letting the harder suffering come and go unhindered by facing it clearly and letting it do its work.