In Buddhist monasteries, the mindfulness bell serves to remind people to begin their mindfulness practice. It is rung at the beginning of formal meditation sessions, and throughout the day to encourage people to be present no matter what they’re doing, whether chopping wood or fetching water. The mindfulness bell helps the monks and nuns integrate mindfulness practice into everything they do.
Outside of monasteries, we typically ring the mindfulness bell at the beginning of meditation classes. That’s a fine practice, but I think there’s something lacking in merely having the bell rung one time a week in a formal class. Really, when you think about it, there isn’t much purpose in ringing the bell before a class. We all know what we’re here for, right?
What I would encourage is to find another more useful mindfulness bell. One that is rung throughout your life. One you can use to reawaken at times throughout your day. For instance, you can use your phone to remind you to practice: Whenever you get a call or a text, pause and re-engage with the present moment. You can really use anything – the car horn honking, a new email message, the sound of your neighbor’s voice, the commercial break on TV… Find a sound or image that occurs frequently in your life, and once you hear it, use it to remind yourself to pause and reconnect.
Some people find it especially helpful to find sounds or images associated with stressful situations and make those their mindfulness bells. For instance, at work you can use an annoying co-worker’s voice, the phone in your office, or footsteps down the hall. In traffic, you can use cars honking, turn signals, red lights, or noisy cars. Be creative and co-opt a normal everyday thing into your mindfulness practice, cuing you one more time to turn your mind to the present. That way we have a bell that actually does what it supposed to, to remind us.