Stop, Breathe, Smile, and Soften
Sometimes the value of a practice doesn’t become fully apparent until it slides, and you notice the difference it makes in your life. It becomes an invitation to return and recommit and should not be a reason to beat yourself up for letting it lapse. Just drop the story about it, and return to what’s important. No need to complicate things.
This inadvertently happened to me this week when my Mindfulness Bell app stopped working for some reason. This is a simple app that helps me to return to presence throughout the day. I configured it to sound a bell randomly once every hour between 8AM and 10PM. When the bell sounds, I stop what I’m doing and take three conscious breaths. Those breaths can be like a magical reset button. They awaken me from whatever trance I’m in and allow me to be more conscious of what I’m doing and to choose whether to keep doing it or switch gears.
It was a busy week, and after a couple days I noticed the bell hadn’t been sounding. Had I been away from my phone more than usual and therefore not heard it? Hmm…I don’t think so. (Most likely, since it’s an app that operates continuously in the background, my phone deactivated it after I didn’t engage with it for a certain amount of time.) But I was feeling less centered and more easily distracted. Those bells brought me back to presence 14 times a day and made a positive difference.
I actually took it as an opportunity to explore another app that has a mindfulness bell: the Plum Village app. Plum Village is the mindful community in France built by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The app is a wonderful, free gift from the Plum Village community. There’s a lot more to it than the mindfulness bell, but the bell is what I was most interested in, to begin with.
This time, I configured it to sound every 20 minutes. That’s a lot of bells every day! But I’m loving it. I catch myself sooner when I start going off on tangents and down rabbit holes that ultimately are a waste of time, and simply bring my attention back to the present. Even just closing my eyes for the duration of these three, luxurious breaths helps when I’m spending a lot of time looking at screens. It pulls me out of that tunnel and brings me back to what feels more spacious and Real.
When you have a practice like that throughout the day, the bell (or whatever you use – perhaps red lights, phone notifications, etc.) can be an opportunity to take a few mindful breaths, return to a mantra, notice where there’s tension in your body and invite it to soften, or whatever is most important to you. It’s a cue to return to that. You might notice whether you’re thirsty and are in need of a drink of water. Or take a break to stand up and stretch.
Reconfiguring the mindfulness bell was an opportunity to revisit my intention. What did I want the bell to cue? So when the bell rings now, I:
- BREATHE (in through the nose and out through the mouth, with long exhalations)
- SMILE (softly with the eyes and mouth)
- SOFTEN (just like floating: relaxing any tension in the body to be supported by the water).
The bell is like a friend who takes my hand and guides me back home. It’s a really beautiful practice that complements seated meditation practice.
© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.