Those bells! they clang loud and clear every quarter of an hour. All night long! I’m a light sleeper and we are close to the minster’s elegant honey-stone tower. Pulled from deep sleep, I curse them. It doesn’t help that I’ve always slept with the window open, even mid-winter in the Pyrenees. Nor that bad health’s made me sensitive to noise.
Tossing and turning, I’m exasperated. I regret having paid lawyers, surveyors and structural engineers to start the process of buying a house close to those bells. We can’t pull out, we’ve searched hard and long and it’s the perfect home, exactly what we want. And now those bells threaten my sanity. What a mess.
As the next day unfolded, the sound of traffic and everything else a small town generates masked them, but when I purposefully stopped, there they were loudly clashing. Ha! so my mind decides when they are intrusive, it’s not the bells’ fault.
That next night when my wife said, “Tell yourself they aren’t a danger,” I realised the problem. My wife can sleep through anything, even in a noisy campsite with people packing up at dawn to have an advantage on the roads home, she remains cosy in her deepest dreams. Hearing it all, I curse the family scuffling about at 5.30am, earlier I’d heard the wild boar sneaking past. Our decisions on the houses we’ve bought have been based on their quietest bedroom. Crazy!
OK, my formative years were spent in the African bush waking when dangerous snakes slunked through open bedroom windows, but as a young man I lived in noise-polluted London, New York, Mombasa, Delhi and slept well. This light sleeping problem began in Plymouth where we lived next to a lovely park. The trouble was the gang who mugged innocent folk returning from the city’s exciting lights. I’d wake, draw on shorts and dash half naked in to the trees wielding a stout stick and they’d flee the yelling madman, as did those innocent folk.
Convinced those louts would attack our house, I’d stir with any noise. To encumber them, I painted the tops of our garden walls with special messy never-drying paint; and in our street facing window I stuck up a graphic sign warning of cobras and mambas as household pets. The suspicious gang inevitably grilled me, returning the next day with a young man who kept snakes. My Kenyan bush knowledge saved the day and we were the only house in the street which wasn’t broken into, despite being the only one without an expensive alarm.
Our third night with the bells, was better. I woke less and told myself the sound was quite lovely - the truth at midday. It worked. But then so did a cosy little trick I use during stressful moments.
Releasing my attention from thought’s ego-centric turmoil, I slip into an awareness of the body-mind keeping my entity going. I settle into an animal awareness, noticing sensual data as a whole balmy swell anchoring me to this moment. The effect is to dislocate me from unwanted, unhelpful static, be it another’s anger, uncomfortable weather, or the irritating pain and fevers of living with constant poor health.
It worked - so there we are! Perhaps we can avoid the downward spiral of engaging with negative experiences. It is possible to change habits which have disrupted our lives for decades. I’m sure we can master our selves by embracing life’s beautiful bells….