I took the MRT to the office this morning. I am tired and not yet used to getting up early for work. From the moment my alarm went off I could feel inside me the battle between grumpy and happy for my emotional state of the week. I chanted to myself as I washed my face, “It’s a choice. It’s a choice. Everyday you choose to be happy or you choose to be miserable. It’s a choice.” Methodically, I got ready for work and fought the urge to crawl back into bed for the day. I kept chanting as I walked the 8 minutes to the MRT station; “I choose to be happy. I choose not to be angry. I have no reason to feel anger, frustration, negativity, crankiness. This is a choice.”
I walked quickly and to distract myself from my hurry, I made an effort to notice pleasant little things, like the group of women doing Tai Chi in the courtyard of the apartment complex across the street from my house. I ignored the cars that honked at me to get out of the way and scooters that raced by mere inches from my feet as I weaved past people carrying eye-level umbrellas in the narrow roadways. I swallowed frustration as people pushed and shoved to get onto the packed subway train and I found a corner where I could lean away from the crush of people. I closed my eyes and kept telling myself that my attitude is a choice. My brow started to furrow. I felt my jaw clenching. The happy me inside was battling hard, but the cranky beast was making a comeback until I walked down the steps of the MRT and heard a bell.
It was a high, clear sound of such purity in the din of the crowd and the traffic.
I stood in the middle of the stairway searching for its source and saw the shaved head of a Buddhist monk. He was wearing rich yellow-gold robes and standing motionless at the bottom of the stairs, a vision of stillness in all the rush.
I thought of my recent New Year’s weekend in Nanaimo with my best friend Danielle’s family where I felt so peaceful and where bells rang all the time. I remembered Danielle’s mom, a Feng Shui specialist, telling me about bells and wind chimes and how they serve as a reminder of the importance of our spiritual place in the physical world.
I thought of me and Danielle on vacation in beautiful Boracay island in the Phillipines, strolling through all the little tourist shops near the beach, looking at wind chimes and brushing our hands through them to make them sing. “They like to talk,” Danielle told me. We smiled and listened to them chatting to us.
The monk held a brass donation bowl and a bell and he just stood in the middle of the sidewalk ringing his bell, ignored by everyone but me. I stood stock still just 10 feet away, stunned by what felt like a message sent straight to my soul, a reminder that there is beauty and spirit and love everywhere if you choose to look for it.
I fished some coins out of my pocket, crossed the sidewalk and dropped them in his bowl. They made a rough clanking sound, but the monk looked at me, smiled a lovely, serene smile and rang his beautiful bell again.
I nodded, dropped my head and walked to the bus stop, feeling ineffably blessed and right in the universe. The bell will echo in my head all morning.
It’s going to be a good week. I choose to be happy.