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Lions Roar : January 2014
of monastics and tens of thousands of lay practitioners, with communities everywhere from Argentina to Austria, Botswana to Brazil. I look around at the sangha in the Great Togetherness Meditation Hall at Blue Cliff. A week ago, I knew almost none of these retreatants, but now I know these painful facts: There’s a man here whose son was killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School and another whose marriage is crumbling. There’s a woman whose father is ill and another whose daughter died of leukemia. There is suffering. That is the first noble truth. There is personal suffering; there is societal suffering; and there is the tragic place where personal and societal suffer- ing meet. But in community all of our suffering—in being heard and held—can soften, just a little. “You are part of my sangha,” Thay says to all of us. THE RETREATANTS at Blue Cliff are divided into dharma families, small groups named after birds, trees, flowers. As fami- lies, we come together for mindful work and dharma discussion. When Willow, my family, gathers to talk, we always begin by giving each other our internal weather reports. Today, after we delve into our sunny skies, soft fogs, and snowstorms, Peggy Smith, one of our dharma discussion leaders, holds out a singing bowl. “Does anyone want to invite the bell?” she asks. Peggy likes that in this tradition the bell is invited, never struck. She likes this careful, nonviolent attention to language. Step-by-step, we go through the ceremony for inviting the bell. First, bring your palms together and bow. Next, place the bell in the center of your palm, thinking of your hand as a lotus flower and your fingers as its five petals. If you close your fingers around the bell, its PHOTOBYBRUCENICHOLS sound will be stifled, so keep them open, fully bloomed. In and out, take two breaths. Then with the bell inviter—the little stick— gently tap the edge of the bell. This half ring is called “waking the bell” and it lets those around you know that soon there will be a full ring. This is an opportunity for every- one to stop what they’re doing and simply enjoy the moment. Follow your breath for another eight seconds, or ten if you’re generous. Then invite the bell fully. The sound, as Thay describes it, should be like a bird soaring up. Take three deep breaths and invite the bell again. And again—three breaths and one final invitation. Lynd Morris is the Willow family’s other discussion leader. She explains that when Thay talks about a bell of mindful- ness, he’s referring to more than just a metal instrument. “A bell of mindfulness can be anything that reminds you to come back to yourself,” she says. It can be a 55 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2014