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30 May 2007 @ 04:05 pm
Tibetan Bells  
    A month ago I ordered a set of Tibetan bells from a catalog. They looked so pretty, and at $20.00 were much cheaper than a similar set of bells I’d seen in a Tibetan store in St. Paul. I have long thought how nice it would be to ring a bell at the start and end of meditation, which I do most mornings. The clear sound of a bell is a beautiful auditory metaphor for the clarity and lightness of awareness that meditation invites on good days. I also appreciate the slow trajectory of the sound of a bell or a gong as it fades from its first appearance to the very last perceivable vibration before its total evaporation. It provides a nice, sweet sound that is easy to follow, an auditory trace that lingers agreeably many long moments after it has faded into complete silence. I also thought they would look pretty displayed in the area of my office where I meditate.
    For several days after I placed my order, I checked our front porch regularly for the awaited package. Mail order purchases from this company usually arrive between three and five days after placing the order despite the disclaimer that delivery can take as long as ten days. After about six days of hopeful checking, always met by the same empty space on our porch, I wondered if this wasn’t a busier mail order time of the year than I’d thought, though I couldn’t see why it would be. One thing seemed clear: it would probably take closer to the full ten days for the bells to arrive.
    After two weeks had passed, I started noticing my disappointment coupled with a front porch checking behavior that bordered on obsessive. Where were those damn bells? I began to revile those sleepy, possibly underpaid mail order factory box packers whose shoddy work habits were holding up the delivery. Soon after, I found a small, thick envelope in my mailbox with the mail order company’s return address. Puzzled, I opened it and found a woman’s exercising top, extra large size. I read the packing slip which duly noted my Tibetan bell order and thought about the large woman who might be opening my bells on this same afternoon. I felt irritated and more disappointed than ever knowing that the coveted bells were definitely not on their way to the empty space on my front porch. I scribbled a note on the packing slip advising the company of the mix up and managed to add that I was still waiting patiently (not!) for beautiful sounds in Minnesota.
    Another ten days passed and still our front porch was bare. Except for a brief period of respite directly after I sent back the exercising top, when I knew the bells wouldn’t be coming and stopped bothering to check for them, I have noticed my own inner bells ringing a bit louder, a bit more persistently each day since it became evident that delivery of the bells was going slowly. I called the company today, one month since my initial order, to ask for a status report. They’re on their way, my beautiful bells, shipped out three days ago.
    Today, as usual, I checked the porch again, feeling vaguely foolish and even a little ashamed. What is it about a set of bells that takes on this level of importance for me, and why have I felt so attached to receiving them? Of course it isn’t the bells that matter so much. The day they arrive, if indeed they ever do, I’ll unpack them, have an admiring look at them, ring them, put them where I meditate, listen to their sweet sound during my meditation, and that will be that. I meditate just fine without them anyhow. At best, they will provide a little extra sweetness during my sittings. So what is it, this hindrance of attachment that the Buddha pointed out to us? I can feel desire most any day of the week – or most any moment of the day, for that matter—invoked in this instance by the empty space where the bells should be, though it has many faces, assumes many forms.
    In linguistics, discourse analysis speaks of language structures that work in pairs – a question and its answer, a joke and its punch line, or an offer of assistance and an expression of gratitude. Perhaps it is because business transactions follow the same paradigm that the mind attaches and obsesses when their completion is delayed.  So maybe it isn’t that the bells are so important, but just that the empty space on my porch represents a missing response.
    Today for the first time since placing my order, I saw the absence of the bells as a good absence, or at least a useful one. Today I am finally able to notice how funny it all is, the irony of the irritation and disappointment brought on by this mail order fiasco. My hopes for the effect the bells would have on my life were so different. Today, I saw the empty space on my front porch assume the shape of my expectations, an imaginary box containing silent, invisible bells. Today I saw the slow delivery as a grace thinly disguised as annoyance. I can see it that way if I want to, and the only thing that changes is my mood (brighter, lighter) and the receptive quality of my mind (strong and open). I find that all of life’s ordinary problems are bells, beautiful, resonant, sweet-sounding bells. I intend to remember, again and again, how valuable a practice it is to listen to them.  
    Note: I wrote this piece in October 2006. The bells finally arrived and were thoroughly disappointing in appearance and function. I returned them within a day or two and have been meditating ever since without any further desire for a meditation bell. I appreciate the silence more each day.
Current Mood: mellowmellow
kragen on June 3rd, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)
Lovely! Thank you!
pbramante on June 7th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it, Kragen.
I hope you and Beatrice are having a smooth trip.
smws on June 7th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
Heh. That's a pretty good story. It reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes "Propeller Beanie" story, but more reflective. Thanks.
pbramante on June 7th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it, Stefan. I'm not very familiar with Calvin and Hobbs, so I googled the story you mentioned and found it. Pretty funny. If you'd like to see it again, you can use this link and then search for "propellor beanie" on the page.