Church Bells

One thing people ask, wherever I go, is how to incorporate Slow Love into a busy life. Great question--and note, I didn't call the book Slow Life. That's because most of us are busy; we have to be, if we are making our livings, raising our children, supporting our parents, tending our gardens. Engaged with life. Even most of the people I know who have "retired" are quite active and have fully scheduled days.

When I was flattened after losing my job, I longed to be busy and productive. My job was to learn how to build a new life, reinvent myself for the midlife part of my journey. Being slowed down gave me the chance to stumble upon--and appreciate--an ancient concept, and reinterpret it for my life.

Not slow life, but slow love: one of those simple, but radical, concepts that can profoundly alter a life. Leaving yourself open to the miracle of the world all around us. Taking a moment, or an hour, or a day, to savor it. Learning to slow down from time to time. As I write in Slow Love, knowing what you've got before it's gone.

Last night brought me a lesson in how easily we slip out of the habits of mindfulness. I was writing up my field trip notes on Pasadena, but I'm now in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Jim Wolcott warned me that it was important to write up your blogs immediately, lest the energy slip away from them. So right. To which I would add: lest you slip into another place entirely.) Anyway, I'm in New Mexico, thinking about California, and suddenly the bells from a nearby cathedral begin ringing madly, lustily. They are giving off huge, deep, melodious sounds. I lifted my head from the computer to listen, amazed at their sonorous beauty.

The bells kept ringing. After thirty seconds, I put my head back down and continued writing, hardly hearing the bells, dimly aware that they were still pealing. I thought, what a gorgeous noise, I never get to listen to that. But I was acting as though I couldn't handle such beauty; I tuned it out. And I kept being in my memory of California while I was sitting in New Mexico not really hearing what was going on around me. Actively resisting it, I would say. And why? So that I could stay "on task"?

Until suddenly one bell gave off such a round ring that it reached my heart.

I stopped typing, put the computer down, laid my head back on a sofa cushion, and let myself fall into the magic of the bells. I thought about how bells were once such an important part of communal activity, ringing in daily prayers as well as seasonal changes, town gatherings as well as personal rituals. I wondered if the vibrations really could reach me, physically, in a cleansing way, and wondered too about how anyone ever invented a bell in the first place. And I listened, and felt, and basked in the concert. What a gift. Available to anyone in earshot--should they choose to listen to it.

I almost missed the bells. I almost missed that wonderful, soul-stirring music. I caught my Slow Love Moment just in time. And those bells wove their way into my dreams, and have been with me all morning.


lisa said...

Beautiful. I grew up in a little French Catholic town in Canada where the church bells would ring several times each day, and though they were just part of the local scenery at the time, whenever I hear bells now in some unexpected time or place, they stir such a feeling of home that I just have to stop and listen, even if just for a moment. Thanks for invoking that cherished memory in the middle of a bell-less day!

mary said...

Oh, so true. Being raised in Central Mexico and then spending many years in Spain, the bells were so central to life; a call to listen. The adventure of being present in the moment is still an upward climb for me, but I am making progress. The birds' calling to one another upon their awakening is my favorite "in the moment" time. Mary (from Pasadena)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Really, all we have to do is just pay attention. Life has so many gifts to give us.

Here, the church bells ring around six in the evening, which is when Edward and I take our late walks in the cooler months. They ring for a long time and it's magical to be out walking, just the two of us, in the middle of that marvelous soundtrack.

Jayne said...

Thank you for ringing our bell (I couldn't resist!) I would love to be in Santa Fe listening to the bells. My oldest son is happily living and working in Santa Fe, but oh how we miss him! It is so far from CT in so many ways. I must ask him if he hears the bells!

spaqueen said...

such a sweet moment. why is life such a fast pace? being in the moment is so difficult today. and when you do pause it feels so foreign. thank you for sharing.

Diane@inMyOwnStyle said...

Hi Dominique-
Hearing church bells in the distance is one of my favorite things. If I am driving and hear them I will stop on the side of the road just to listen. They remind me of a simpler time and as you stated - just let you have a slow love moment.
My best-

Karena said...

It is those unique memories that bring joy to our hearts!

Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

Loved this example. I try to do this as well in my life. Sometimes more successful than others.

Cristina said...

"Live in the present, for it is the only moment you have".
unfortunately it's way too easy to be carried away by several tasks & thoughts and therefore pay scarce and fleeting attention to the "here & now".

virginia said...

Midnight mass, at St. Francis, in high school - I'm guessing you're staying downtown.

St. Vincent's Hospital was next to St. Francis Cathedral, with nuns in charge.

Time travel with just one sound memory. Enjoy.

Darla said...

This story is such a good illustration, reminder, example.

Thank you.


c said...

Sometimes, ok, most times, we are so hard on ourselves ...

Dear D, you are living up to your own definition of Slow Love, [taking time to share (beautiful everyday moments) with one another] with each and evry post.

You are such a treat to so many of us 'readers' of your blog. By putting into words such simple everyday moments, you make all of us engage in Slow Love.

Thanks you.

Denis said...

“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds;
And as the mind is pitched, the ear is pleased
With melting airs, or martial, brisk, or grave;
Some chord in unison with what we hear
Is touched within us, and the heart replies.
How soft the music of those village bells,
Falling at intervals upon the ear In cadence sweet; now dying all away,
Now pealing loud again and louder still,
Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on!
With easy force it opens all the cells
Where memory slept.”
-William Cowper, The Winter Walk at Noon, Book VI of The Task, A Poem, in Six Books (London, 1785)

Anonymous said...

When HG arrived in my mail box, I would sit down and read your page first, then I read it again that night while sitting in bed. I bought your books and gave them as presents.
Till one day you were gone and replaced by someone who had nothing to say to me of any interest. I stopped reading HG altogether.

What a lovely unexpected gift it is to find your blog via Pamela's House of Edward.
I haven't even started reading your blog yet, just looked at the gorgeous pictures with a smile on my face.

Vava! Veve! said...

Hello Dominique,
Depression stopped me in my tracks for over 10 years. When I refer to that time I reference it as, "the time I was gone". There was nothing productive at that time. . . not even memories. It is just a hole that depression left in my life. Until that time, I was a successful interior designer, with my own firm. (Loved you magazine, BTW!) Throughout my battle with darkness, and because of my love for textiles, I kept my hold on the tendrils of my sanity by learning to weave. Now I am a hand weaver, working with fine linen. I view what I am doing as making music with fiber, creating a symphony for the eyes!

I love your blog! This entry strikes a particularly crystal chord in my soul. The reasons for my depression will always be in my life, chafing at my spirit, so I must always be vigilant, always monitoring my view of myself and the world. But I certainly do find it challenging to always be mindful of the slow moments, the Slow Love, that could fill all of our lives if we only could bask all day in their beauty. There are infinite opportunities for us to take notice, and perhaps that is why we start to only notice the jagged moments more, notice the darker contrast in all the beauty, and deal with them more. I am coming to think it is easier for us to work with those darker moments, it gives us something to DO, rather than just soaking in all the fantastic unending inspiring mindboggling beauty around us. The jagged moments put an easy focus right in front of us, instead of us opening our spirits and being vulnerable to whatever may lie beyond the tip of our noses. To really appreciate and participate in Slow Love we must be aware of the differences between the beauty and the darkness. . . and hasn’t that been THE challenge to humankind for all of eternity?

Please keep writing! Keep inspiring all of us to stop and take notice of what lies beyond our noses! Your fine attention to detail, and your craftmanship of words is absolute music for the mind!

Vivien said...

Russian bells are marvellous, quite different from west European ones: a basic low resonating clang, somehow of great import, then a jangle of high quick bells, all very reminiscent of some of Stravinsky's music. The low bells were said to have healing properties: apparently people living near their radius suffered less from colds and flu. I taped a programme about them from the radio long ago, but the tape has mysteriously disappeared, as objects do. Must see if there's a CD.

Very good blog about mindfulness - thanks for writing it.

Catherine said...

I love your blog and so your book that I bought after reading a review in one of your UK papers. Having just given up my company after 20 years I find myself in the position of adapting to a slower life. It won't be easy but at present I am comfortable with the 'discomfort'. I thought you might like to know that I read the book whilst on a recent visit to Piedmonte in Italy and passed it on to a friend who lives in Bra, from where 'slow food' originated. She was made redundant and is looking for new pastures. I hope the book will inspire her too! Thanks you. Catherine

Anonymous said...

As with church bells,the sound of a 28 inch Chinese Chau Gong being struck releases a soothing, spiritual sound signifying the importance of the moment. Upon awakening, my husband or I will strike the gong in our Japanese Garden to mark the moment of a new and mysterious day. When both of our grown sons visit, they secretly smile and normally shake their heads as their parents strike the gong to celebrate their arrival. It is so important to weave these "Slow Love" moments into ones simple day. Namaste

Deana Sidney said...

One of my favorite things about England is the change ringing in the cathedrals (which Dorothy Sayers explained so well in "The 9 Tailors"). I find it makes you stop... something about an internal resonance that is deeply moving and connects you to a kind of celestial harmonics. I look forward to having a long listen when I go next month. You described it so eloquently -- it brings you to place so well.

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