The Second Ring

A recurring theme in Buddhism is that of mindfulness, awareness of the present moment. When one is aware of the present moment, free of attachments to past events, ones' actions are less likely to lead to suffering. This idea, like many in Buddhism, is easily applied to our everyday life.

A few years ago, at our temple’s monthly discussion group, one of our members told of his experience at a meditation center in France. One day while sitting in the kitchen with a group of monks the phone began to ring. After the second ring he wondered why no one was getting up to answer. The phone rang again and again. Finally, after six or seven rings a monk arose and answered. Intrigued by this he asked why no one had answered sooner. Obviously, they all heard the phone ringing. A monk replied, “On the first ring we became aware that someone was calling. We allowed the phone to ring until we had cleared our minds of the thoughts which were present. Only when we were fully mindful of our next action, answering the phone, did we do so.”

This story started me thinking of my life. In my business I spend a great deal of time on the phone. Throughout the day customers, salesmen and suppliers call. I thought of my habit of answering the phone immediately. So quickly, that I joked I answered between the “I” and the “N” of the first “RING.” If frustrated or upset, I answered even quicker than usual. The ringing phone was an annoyance. I wanted it to stop. However, by answering so quickly my frustration or anger was immediately evident to the person calling. More than once callers had said, ”Not having a good day today Bill?” I realized that by not creating a separation between my actions, by not being mindful, I was carrying my suffering forward.

I resolved to answer the phone after at least two rings. At first, this was extremely difficult. Old habits die hard. Slowly, however, I was able to succeed. I began to see that by becoming mindful before answering the phone not only didn’t I bring an agitated mind to the new conversation, when I returned to my prior activity I had a calmer mind. This calmer mind often made the earlier problem easier to solve.

Mindfulness is not limited to Buddhism. There is an old adage that when you are angry you should “breathe deeply and count to ten” before taking any action. This is mindfulness. You are making a space between your anger and any actions. A meditation technique is to count your breaths. This allows you to better focus on the present moment free from outside influences.

Buddhism is not a belief system of worship and prayer. Buddhism presents a guideline for overcoming suffering in our lives. Enlightenment is the overcoming of this suffering. Overcoming some of your suffering can be as simple as letting the phone ring twice.

For more information about Buddhism, or meditation in Kenosha, contact me at