Early one morning, when the weather and wind were perfect, I could just make out the sound of the train's warning call 20 km away as it traveled north from Alliston. In the summer, when the air is right, I can hear the kids talking down at the bottom pond, over a km away. Sometimes I can make out some of the words along with the laughter. If I am lucky, I may hear a church bell off in the distance, sweet-toned, ringing again, and again, and again.
There's something about the sound of a bell that warms my heart. I heard the carillon at University of Toronto once. 51 bells. It was so beautiful, it gave me goosebumps.
Of course there are bells that announce news: Like the one at a neighbour's summer home. After working all week in the city he drove up here on weekends to decompress. He was so happy to be here he clanged a noisy bell outside his back door to announce his joy each Friday evening. We'd hear the bell and announce, "Gord's up." Or the temple bell in a small village that was rung to announce a happy event. Ayya Khema wrote, "The bell allowed the villagers to share their joy." Or the bells in the clock tower at Toronto's Old City Hall, tolling the hour.
There are bells that clear energy: Like the singing bowl that friends gave me a while back. When I use it right, the tones and overtones are clearing and soothing. Or like the small chime with the pure musical tone that I use at the beginning of workshops to clear the energy in the room and get everyone's attention.
I think my favourites though, are the tiny bells. I have a few scattered around the house - small tinkly things that sometimes move in the breeze as I walk by with a sound like the whispers of a forgotten song. These bells make no demands. Yet their voices reach deep within and without.
Maybe I like bells so much because when I hear them it's a chance for me to stop talking and stop thinking and just listen.
Sound can carry me into another dimension.
The first thing I do when I begin my meditations and prayers is settle down and pay attention to the sounds around me: the clock ticking, the creak of the house timbers in the cold, the chickadee's call ringing through the pine trees. It pulls me out of the visual, which occupies so much of my time, and into the moment. I don't listen in order to identify the sounds, but to adjust my perceptions and thinking.
Although on that still, clear morning when I heard the sound of the train so far away, I was curious enough to want to identify it. Then, once my curiosity was satisfied, I let the sounds around me take me into a quieter place.
Ayya Khema *Taken from "Being Nobody Going Nowhere" by Ayya Khema.
First published May 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.