The sound of the bell is used as a means to bring the mind back to the body. In a practice center, every time you hear the sound of the bell, you stop all your thinking, you stop all your talking, you bring your attention to your in-breath, you enjoy breathing in, you enjoy breathing out, you enjoy your true presence in the here and the now. Mindfulness means the energy that allows us to be fully alive, fully alive. Because in our daily life our body may be there but our mind is elsewhere. Our mind may be caught by the past or in the future, in our worries, in our anger, in our projects. Our mind is not with our body. We are not truly there. We are not present. We are not alive.
So, with one mindful in-breath or mindful step, you bring your mind back to your body. Every human being has the capacity of being mindful. And when your mind is back to your body, you are truly there. There is something you call the oneness of body and mind. You are well established in the here and the now. We know intellectually that the wonders of life are there in us and around us. And yet we can not touch the wonders of life in order to nourish ourselves, to heal ourselves. The blue sky, the white cloud, the beautiful hills. And if you abandon the present moment, how can you get in touch with these wonders of life?
But we have already had a tendency of running. Our ancestors, our parents may have run all their life into the future, and seeking what they believe to be the conditions of their happiness. And we also have done that. We believe that the happiness is not possible now, we need a few more conditions to be truly happy and these few more conditions must be in the future. And that is why most of us sacrifice the present moment.
Mindful walking ,or walking meditation is a practice that can bring joy, stability and freedom with every step. When you breathe in, you may like to make one step or two steps and you become aware of the contact between your foot and the ground. And you may like to say, "I have arrived, I have arrived." "I have arrived" is not a statement, it is a realization. And with that step, you can arrive at the here and the now. If you have not arrived 100%, don't make another step. Just stay there in the position until you come to a full stop. Stopping is the key of the meditation.
Imagine a person who is dying. Even if they are very rich persons, they are very powerful persons, but that moment if they want to stand up and make another step, it will not be possible. To be alive, to be healthy and to be making steps on this beautiful planet, is a real miracle. And if you succeeded in arriving, and then you smile a smile of victory and you make another step. I am home. I have arrived, I am home. My true home is in the here and the now. I am solid, I am free. "I am solid", it means that I am solidly established in the here and the now. I am not being pulled by the past and I am not being pulled by the future. I am myself. Walk like a free person. Walk like the Buddha. The Buddha is a human being who knows how to walk mindfully. (Thay's singing)
We have the blocks of suffering inside. Fear, anger, despair, hate, violence. But we don't want to talk about it. We don't want to look at it. We don't want to listen to our own suffering. The practice of mindfulness allows us to recognize the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us. The mother is in the kitchen, working but she hears the baby crying. She goes to the room of the baby and she picks the baby up, and she holds the baby in her arms. She does not know yet what (is the cause) but when she embraces the baby like this in tenderness, the baby already gets some relief. The same thing is true with your pain. You don't know what is your real cause but if you know how to recognize your ill-being and embrace it tenderly, you can get some relief already. And the energy that helps you to bring relief is the energy of mindfulness. If you do not understand your own suffering, if you do not understand your own difficulty, you can not make yourself happy. If you can not love yourself, how can you love another person? So, in the Buddhist teaching is very clear that self-understanding , self-love is the foundation for the love for another person.
Those who think are ego. Meanwhile, awareness attains insight without thinking. Ego is in other words, separate self who separates oneself from others. Awareness is in other words, non-separate self, true self, the whole cosmos, the cosmic body, or the Dharma body. The Buddha taught mindfulness to transform ourselves from ego to awareness, or from separate self to non-separate self. And the key to transform ourselves is to stop thinking, or mind. The concrete method is mindfulness such as mindful breathing, mindful walking (walking meditation) and mindful sitting (sitting meditation).
Thích Nhất Hạnh