'The sound of the Bell is the voice of the Buddha, calling us back to our true home - there present moment; the here and the now...'

The bell is a great friend on the path to mindfulness; to stopping, calming, and relaxing.  When we hear the sound of the bell, it is an invitation to simply be - to stop whatever we may be doing at the time; eating, walking, working, speaking etc. and give our full awareness to our in-breath, and out-breath, just three mindful breaths that are like a little holiday for body and mind, a time to calm ourselves, to relax, to be.

Children are always keen to learn how to invite the bell (we use the term invite, rather than hit or strike) and it is always a teaching especially for the children, on how to invite and to listen to the bell, that Thich Nhat Hanh offers in his first dharma talk on retreats.


Whenever I recall George and Emily's (cousins 8 and 6 respectively) last stay with me for a week without their parents I have to smile when I remember their fun and games with the bell.


On their first morning they were invited to invite the largest bell in the living room whenever they felt it would be helpful.  They were already familiar with bell practice but not with the large bell.


They obviously felt that it would be 'helpful' fairly frequently.   At first this made me so happy.  The children were enjoying the sound of the bell, and we had that gift of a few moments to stop, relax, and enjoy the awareness of the rhythm of our 3 breaths.


At first.  After a while, however, after perhaps a dozen such gifts in the first hour, a realisation dawned.  The bell was only invited when I was a) generally out of the room, and b) always deeply engaged in washing up, playing piano, sweeping up, dealing with the stove etc.   


A second realisation dawned.  Each time I had heard the sound of the bell, and dutifully stopped what I was doing, one of them had been watching me.  They were inviting the bell when my back was turned, one of them seeing if I was walking the talk on bell practice, and one inviting the bell.


This went on for most of the morning.  Whenever I wasn't doing something with them, but engaged in the daily tasks of keeping the house going, the bell would be invited, and I would hear the spy rush back to the bell-inviter to whisper that Grandma had indeed stopped and was doing nothing “. . . only smiling!”.


I didn't react once, nor did I tell them that I knew what they had been doing (I might do one day!). I only practised, especially with any irritation that arose!  I confess it did a couple of times at first,  but they were enjoying themselves so much it didn't last.  I knew the novelty would wear off, and after all, I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy those precious present moment moments!


Sure enough, the novelty did wear off, and they were, as always, very respectful of our 10 or so minutes of silence and taking turns to be bell master at mealtimes, and whenever I invited a bell they did stop and take three very joyful, if over-enthusiastic breaths.

For more details on practising mindfulness with children see the book ‘Planting Seeds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh or come to the mindful living show and hear a talk about mindfulness within families.

In addition, there are annual family retreats in the UK by the Community of Interbeing which offer opportunities for family groups to understand and practice mindfulness together.