that bell…

Whether you are meditating at a Zen center, a temple or a retreat, one thing that will be a constant is the bell or gong. You will hear the deep, lulling sounds at the beginning and end of your practice. It can be a singing bell that vibrates lowly, or a stand up gong, that resonates in the back of your mouth as you try not to smile. Perhaps a table bell, tinkling like water flowing over rocks… that one is my favorite. The point is to let you know it is time. To focus, clear your mind. To let go of those symbols of unreality; words. To breathe, in unison with those sharing the room with you… with the millions who have come before. To allow emotion to pour thru your being, to chant and let it go. To realize there is nothing but you, there, in that moment. No reality but yourself. Sort of a spiritual intermission bell, signaling the beginning of the next act, guiding us back to the business at hand.

So words are not reality, but I do need words to describe things. How does one speak about that which is not anything, that nothingness that surrounds everything ? A bell can help us toward that understanding. The esteemed Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has penned the answer for us. He stated it in words, as eloquently as only a Zen Master can.

“Hearing the bell, I am able to let go of all afflictions.

My heart is calm, my sorrows ended.

I am no longer bound to anything.

I learn to listen to my suffering, and the suffering of the other person.

When understanding is born in me, compassion is also born.”

I love his words, those non-entities wrapping themselves around the concept I am trying to grasp. I am putting my words away for now, moving on past my thoughts to actions, using them to create the reality of my day. Namaste !

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