Soothed by the Bell

Why is the sound of a mindfulness bell such a great warm up for any attentional fitness workout?

Because listening to a simple sound with equanimity provides a rich opportunity to directly observe the phases shared by every other sensory experience.

  • Rest
  • Expansive activity
  • Contractive activity
  • Point of vanishing

When we strike a bell, the sound emerges from silence, peaks, slowly fades, and eventually transitions abruptly back into the silence.

The duration of a bell’s contractive phase offers an ideal degree of challenge for our minds. It tends to last long enough for us to develop concentration by gently bringing our wandering attention back to the sound again and again. The persistent change of the sound's decay can be soothing or at least interesting and can eventually become absorbing. There is also a clear endpoint which is not so far off that it prevents the challenge from feeling too open-ended and discouraging.

Cultivating intimacy with one sensory domain fosters the same kind of familiarity with all other domains. Working with sound cultivates the same attentional skills of concentration, clarity, and equanimity as working with sensations in the body or visual stimulus.

This is true for sounds playing out in our acoustic environment as well as the ones comprising our internal chatter or even melodies that can loop in our minds.

As you develop a greater ability to listen to sounds without evaluation or needing them to be different than they are, you are also paving the way to being able to observe the flow of your verbal thinking with similar objectivity. This takes time and practice, of course, but remember that we are not out to suppress the ordinary thinking process, but to increase our familiarity with it.

Equanimity simply means allowing things to be as they are. When we wrestle less with our thoughts, we can eventually become less restless. We can even turn this equanimity on the emotional-type sensations in the body that are driving the compulsive thinking we often find so problematic.

So in addition to being a great way to transition into formal practice, mindfulness bells can also be used as the main object of focus for an entire period of practice.

Here is a five-minute meditation using the mindfulness bell as the object of focus. It’s from The Guided Meditation Site where you can download sixty minute version for formal meditation practice.

 One Strategy for Hearing Out

  1. Decide how long you’d like to practice.
  2. Start your timer.
  3. Take a minute to notice your body and your mind.
    • Is there any sense at all that your body or mind should feel different than they do?
    • If so, what happens when you consider that, in reality, your body and mind should feel exactly as they do right now?
  4. Start the video clip or recording. [You can also use this same strategy with any recording of music or nature sounds, or just work with the sounds of your current environment.]
  5. Restrict your attention to exploring various states of sound activity. To the best of your ability, allow all other activity to operate in the background.
  6. Every few seconds, aim your attention on a particular occurrence of sound activity or silence, then let your attention linger there for a few seconds or until it comes to an end. The optional labels are:
    • HEAR REST (silence)
    • HEAR OUT
    • HEAR FLOW (change)
    • GONE
  7. Whenever you realize that something other than external sounds and silence has become the primary focus of your attention, gently reestablish the rhythm of clearly noticing aspects of sound.
  8. Continue working in this way until the timer goes off.

TRY THIS: Instead of making a problem out of an internal or external distraction, try to find any restfulness in the body that appears in reaction to it. Be open to unexpectedly pleasant reactions even to unpleasant distractions. Then return to your exploration of sounds.