Like many people, and perhaps especially introverts, I have an almost-constant voice in my head that will. Not. Shut. Up.

It notices everything. It labels, judges, assesses, analyses. It sees patterns and makes predictions and formulates theories. It wants to problem-solve, preempt difficulties, fix everything and rescue everybody.

It can be helpful, sure, but it is absolutely exhausting.

So a few weeks ago, in the hope of taming my feral monkey-mind, I decided to try mindfulness. From my psych studies I knew mindfulness practice had shown positive outcomes in psychology research and I’d recently watched Michael Mosely’s BBC documentary Don’t Worry Be Happy, in which he’d reduced his anxiety levels over 7 weeks with daily 20-minute mindfulness sessions.

My first step was to download several audiobooks on mindfulness.

The first, by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, was on finding peace and slowing down. It was probably a bad sign that I found the pace so frustrating I had to set playback to triple speed.

Still, as I walked about briskly on my errands, listening with characteristic impatience for some nugget of monkey-mind insight to hurry up and show itself, an idea penetrated.

The idea of the mindfulness bell.

This is the notion that you use any regular occurrence in your day as a signal to break out of your mental wrangling – your past re-hashing and future worrying, your judging and analysing, your wanting things to be a certain way and resisting the way things are – and return yourself to the simple present moment.

For instance, instead of getting frustrated at a red light, resisting it, wishing you could keep driving, you allow ‘red light’ to go *DINGGG* – mindfulness bell shaking you out of your head and into the moment. You focus on the simple pleasure of being here, now. You breathe in, and know that you are breathing in. You breathe out, and know that you are breathing out.

Whoa.

Like many potentially life-changing ideas, this was nothing new and not especially revolutionary, but I was ready for it. I walked toward home wondering what I could use in my own life as a mindfulness bell.

As I lost myself in this question I came to some stairs where a father and his young son were dawdling across the whole width of the stairs, completely unperturbed by people trying to get around them. The dad, seeing I couldn’t pass, gave me an indulgent look that said, Aww, isn’t my kid cute, to which my look replied No you and your kid are super annoying and inconsiderate so get the hell out of the way and play somewhere else. 

Once I had squeezed my way past the unconcerned pair, and my irritation at their obliviousness started to subside, I tuned back into the words in my earbuds.

*DINGGGG*

Huh.

I had not changed the guy in any way. As much as I’d like to believe in the transformative power of my passive-aggressive dirty looks, I doubt the guy had stopped and said, Hmmm, that lady’s dirty look and cranky passage down the stairs have really made me reconsider my behaviour. Why, from this day forth I resolve to be more aware of others and as God is my witness I shall never be annoying again. And also my kid is not cute now that I look at him.

Nope. My irritation had not made one iota of difference to the level of inconsiderateness in the world. I had only managed to stress myself out, to lose my own equanimity, for nothing.

So I decided that I would use any moment of irritation with strangers as my mindfulness bell and allow it to return me to the present moment. To being here. To releasing resistance. To enjoying the simple pleasure of breathing, and knowing that I am breathing.

This is a pretty big challenge as I live in a suburb where walking the streets and shopping centres is pretty much like navigating dodgem cars. Only less orderly.

But I’m determined to try, and I’ll let you know how I get on. Stay tuned.

Disclaimer: Listening to mindfulness instruction on triple speed while mentally judging and condemning strangers may mean that my interpretation of this concept is slightly flawed.

Image: Golden Bell by Arneliese under CC by 2.0

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