Commentary: Bell, Book and ‘Star’

Paths to uplift, heal during uncertain times

By Patricia C. Thompson

A bell, a book and a Dec. 21 “star” that only appears every 800 years. How can we use them to change our conflict and COVID-19-ravaged times for the better?

In one short span, all of them converged for me, and I, in turn, want to suggest a communal “event” and some practical techniques for help and hope.

Pat Thompson

Bell, book and star

Even though many traditions are on hold this December, fortunately, holiday decorating is in full swing.

In that spirit, I headed to our attic to search for the happiest holiday decor — window candles, garland, angel chimes, a Nativity set and child-crafted ornaments that bring back a lifetime of memories.

Past the dusty dollhouse, crated LEGOs and old tax returns, I spotted a misplaced book — “Peace is Every Step,” by noted Zen master, peace advocate and author Thich Nhat Hanh.

Taking a break, I made a cup of tea and flipped through a few of its short vignettes — some with odd titles like “Pillow Pounding,” “Walking Meditation When Angry,” “Investing in Friends,” “Flowers and Garbage,” “Our Life is a Work of Art,” “Bells of Mindfulness,” “Suffering Nourishes Compassion” and “Waging Peace.”

One entry caught my eye — “Breathing Room.” It offers a convincing case for creating a retreat room or quiet zone in our homes to go to at the first signs of rising anger or impending meltdowns. Equip it, says the author, with a chair or inviting cushions, a bell and some natural, soothing things. Consider flowers (or my additions — plants, seashells or beach pebbles, or a view to enjoy) that the person can arrange or enjoy.

The Zen master/peace advocate suggests that when we go to the room, we ring the bell once and breathe in and out, mindfully and slowly. As others hear the bell ring, they too may become uplifted or encouraged.

What was anger and distress can turn into calmness in much the same way that wax flows slowly from a burning flame. Hanh also suggests that we pause and do slow, mindful breathing any time we hear a bell, beep or buzzer.

In my view, we can use these sounds as reminders to pause, check in, release muscle tension and do some self-care.

I can picture such spaces in our homes to help reduce the stress of COVID-19 or see them being created in our classrooms or workplaces — even if just in an alcove or behind a folding screen.

Ring a bell of any tradition for peace and goodwill on Monday at 7 p.m. Lovely sounds arise from these bells, which are from points far and near around the world

How to heal conflicts

The idea of a breathing space reminded me of Dr. Susan Heitler’s Psychology Today article “How to Heal After Upsets,” prefaced by six things for the “estranged” parties to avoid doing. Paraphrasing Dr. Heitler:

“Non-healers: Six to skip”:

• Criticism: Avoid saying either nicely or harshly what the other person supposedly did wrong.

• Blame: Don’t point fingers seeking to assign blame and find fault.

• Revenge or retribution: Don’t seek equal hurting, which just invites resentment and counterattacks.

• Punishment: Don’t try to teach the other party a lesson (usually revealing that the speaker is an unsafe person to be around).

• Humiliation: Don’t attempt to teach the other adult a lesson by shaming or guilt-tripping them.

• Stockpiling: Don’t toss multiple hurts into an emotional sack and then slam this entire litany of wrongs at the person in one volcanic event.

Healers: Four to do:

• Piece together what happened.

• Find the “mis” — as in “mistake,” “misunderstanding,” “miscommunication,” “misperception.” Analyze the matter in your mind to understand — not to shape words of blame.

• Devise a better system.

• Apologize. Then, add what you will do differently next time.

Clearly, these steps may take practice, but just starting can have its merits. This may help the healing process in the heart of the initiator, as well as the other party.

Here’s a suggestion: Consider saving or clipping this for future reference.

Invitation: ‘Star’ and bell Dec. 21

So how can books, bells and the “star” all come together to uplift and heal us in these challenging coronavirus times?

On Monday, an event termed the “Great Conjunction” is set to occur along with the winter solstice.

In timing that has not happened since the year 1623, the huge planets Jupiter and Saturn will be only 0.1 degrees apart, creating this unique combined radiance. This sight is already emerging and can be observed roughly 45 minutes after sunset — about 7 p.m. in Delaware.

If the Monday night sky is clear, there will be a brilliant, elongated “star” in the west that should be visible to the naked eye and enhanced with binoculars.

Some are comparing it to the Star of Bethlehem, said to have been visible at the time of Jesus’ birth and could have lit the way for the reported visitors to Bethlehem, including the shepherds and the Magi — the “three wise men,” also termed “men who studied the stars” (Matthew 2:1 in “Good News Bible,” TEV).

Regardless of your spiritual stance or tradition, let us all consider doing what follows — ideally on Dec. 21, during the Great Conjunction or “Star Day” — or perhaps any night soon (and why not on every winter solstice?).

In fact, consider asking your family, friends and neighbors to do the same in their respective stargazing venues.

At 7 p.m., take a bell in hand as you look upward at this rare celestial event and ring your bell with enthusiasm.

Ring for healing, hope and harmony. Ring for those who have passed away. Ring for loved ones, for challenged ones and for all who have been helpful during this pandemic.

As written in Luke 2:14, ring for “peace on earth — good will” to all.

Patricia C. Thompson, M.A., M.Ed., is a retired educator who lives in Dover. She enjoys being in touch with family near and far, plus with her community groups — these days mostly via Zoom. Pat leads spiritual and literary courses with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Delaware and does occasional precollege and holistic life-coaching.