A key part of living mindfully is meditation practice, and if you are reading mindful.technology there is a good chance I do not need to explain it. But just-in-case: a typical silent meditation will involve sitting with eyes closed (or looking at the floor with soft focus) then focusing on the breath for the duration of the meditation. There are many other ways to meditate, but this is the perhaps the most basic and essential technique on which most more involved meditation techniques are based.
Why we need a meditation timer
In order to fit a daily meditation into a busy life it is helpful to set a defined period of time – this should typically be short for beginners (2 minutes) and can be much longer for experienced meditators with enough time to spare. You don’t want to keep looking at a clock, so will need a timer. Every smartphone comes with a timer function, but we can do better. We can have bells!
Meditation and bells go together better than pizza and cheese. Better, because although I know plenty of vegans who have their pizza without cheese, I have never knowingly encountered anyone with a moral objections to bells. On a meditation retreat you have bells to mark the beginning of a meditation, bells to mark the end, and often bells in the middle too. You might hear various other bells throughout the day, to mark dinner time or an activity, or because some megalomaniacal monk decides to bring the community to a halt for a few seconds. In that moment, when the bell is ringing, it doesn’t matter who rung it or why. The ringing of the bell is an invitation to stop whatever you are doing an just be. A reminder that the present moment is where it’s at, the most happenin’ place, and you’re right there right now.
So for many meditators the bell is more than a practical marker of time, and more than a nice atmospheric touch. It is a reminder of mindfulness (the word itself has a connotation of “remembering” in the Sanskrit language). A experienced meditator’s response to a ringing bell has been trained through practice to instantly change their state of mind. A bell isn’t just nicer than a beeping phone, it has millennia of meaning associated with it.
MindBell (for Android only) brings this meaning out of the monastery and into daily life. It has two functions: timed meditations (marked with bells), and regular bells throughout the day. You can use either or both. It does not offer any guided meditations – if that’s what you are looking for, check out meditation apps like Ten Percent Happier or Headspace.
On the timer front, it has all the basic options. I can set any number of bells at the beginning and end, and more at regular intervals throughout the meditation should I wish. There is only one bell sound available, but it’s a reasonably good one. The only criticism I have is that it lacks any of the spontaneity of a real bell. With a real bell, every ring is slightly different. With MindBell every ring is the same, and once you’ve heard it a few times there is a temptation to turn off and think of something rather than really listen to the sound – because you’ve heard it so many times before. But it’s still better than a beep.
The regular mindfulness bells I find less useful, even though this seems to be the main reason the app was developed. I tried this function for a few days, and although the idea is sound (no pun intended), I kept forgetting to turn it off when I left the house and eventually gave up. Perhaps if it could be set to ring only when my home Wi-Fi network is in range, this would make it more usable. Even then, I might want it only in a specific room of the house. There are many options to customize the behaviour, for example changing the regularity of the bells or setting it to only ring during the day time, but the options don’t go far enough for me to create an environment where I automatically get mindfulness bells at precisely the times and places that I want them. Perhaps I don’t need an app for this after all, but a grandfather clock.
Alternatives to MindBell
MindBell is unfortunately not available on iOS (iPhone / iPad). Apple users will need an alternative. Android users may also like to explore alternatives.
The most notable option is Insight Timer, which provides a similar meditation timer features to MindBell, also for free. However, Insight Timer also offers a number of other features including guided meditations, community features, and premium paid content. I tend to prefer the minimalist approach of MindBell, but I also use Insight Timer, particularly on Apple devices.
This is an app I use regularly, for the straightforward meditation timer. In particular, I appreciate that I was not required to sign up and give away data on my usage just to meditate, like some other apps. It’s also open source, which is great – perhaps I’ll have a go at tweaking it sometime. Unfortunately it’s only available on Android. MindBell is a good app that will remain part of my meditation habit for now, but I hope to find better at some point.