Starting the Day with a Bell

Our “school” bell and dorje

At the beginning of our two-year home school adventure, Natalie and I initiated a ritual of ringing a pleasant-sounding bell to mark the beginning of our day, and chose a hand-held bronze bell from Tibet, used by Buddhists to focus the mind.   Later on, we learned the meaning of the two pieces: the bell and the dorje. Representing the masculine and feminine principles in the cosmos and in the individual’s energy body, the dorje is always held in the right hand and the bell in the left. The bell’s gentle ring was a pleasing contrast to the neighborhood middle school campus’ ear-piercing buzzer. When the breeze blew west from the ocean, the sound of the buzzer shot across the school’s playing fields over the rooftops of hundreds of houses and straight into our bathroom window where our bathtub seemed to be its final landing spot.

“Maybe we should give them some Tibetan bells,” said Natalie one day when we walked past the campus on a pleasant afternoon, just as the buzzer shattered the sound of birdsong we were enjoying. We laughed as I described my attempt to convince the principal that a Tibetan bell might help achieve a calmer and more focused student body. But the idea was not far-fetched. Even the least noise sensitive person can hardly avoid being jangled by the repeated blast of a noisy buzzer each and every day.

Besides, I couldn’t help but observe that the combination of the buzzer and the cyclone fence made it feel like we were passing a jail, rather than a school. That is really dispiriting to the spirit of learning.

Interestingly, Natalie’s high school doesn’t have bells or buzzers. As the Assistant Head of School says, “There are no buzzers or bells in life.” Some people shake their heads in disbelief when they hear about the absence of bells at the school.

They ask, “And they get to class on time?”

“They do,” we answer. “They have clocks,” I add.

And then these are the various follow-up answers:

“Interesting…” (said in skeptical disbelief)

“Wow, that’s amazing.” (said in delighted disbelief)

“Hmm, I never thought of that. It makes sense!” (the absurdity of buzzers and noisy bells sinks in)


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