Friday, January 30, 2009

What If?

Last night at practice I found myself once again in a frustrating place. I have had enough exposure to experienced ringers to see how they ring and all that did was outline intimately how far I am from that level of ringing. Nothing comes with ease, there is no fluidity, no relaxation in my ringing. There is plenty cutting short of full strokes and turtleing up. No gentle rise and fall of the rope, just overpull and check. And once in a while, that fleeting knowledge that that last thing I did just there, that was perfect, but I don't know exactly what I did or how to repeat it.

Now, as a learner, there is an assumption that, well, you're going to suck. And in bellringing, the warning you will get from the start is that it may well be a very long time before you don't, so don't get discouraged or try to rush yourself. Now, this may be true, and it may be fair warning, but your subconscious can really run wild with that, and before you know it you are perfectly happy to be doing poorly because you have given yourself a pass on having to be responsible for improvement. You don't have to be good, you're a learner. No one expects you to make great progress, so why beat yourself up over it too much?

It is clear that our minds can affect our bodies. Modern medicine grudgingly admits that mental state can negatively affect health. People suffering mental stress, anxiety or depression are more likely to succumb to infections they might have otherwise have fought off. They take longer to heal. Some research even suggests that there may be a mental or emotional component to some cancers.

What about the other side of the coin? The medical community is even less willing to admit to the positive power of the mind on the body, but how many times have you heard of breakthroughs in healing due to mood enhancing therapies and positive imagery?

Where I'm going with all this is that the other day I had a thought: what if I just went to the tower and rang as if I already could? What if I parrotted the experienced ringers who moved with ease and confidence? What could I do if I pretended to be one of them, stopped thinking about how to ring and just rang? So I tried it.

Um, it worked.

Not 100%, mind you, but it sure took my ringing up a notch or two. I rang rounds pretty darned well on 5, 6 and 7 bells, and I think it worked because I stopped consciously trying to remember all the stuff I was supposed to do and just did it instead. Hot damn, I think I may be on to something here!

I'm also not saying there wasn't vast room for improvement, that my rope handling was perfect and that my striking was spot on, but I was really ringing with the band instead of generally around them, which is where I have been.

The greatest compliment I got that evening was when I went to where my husband was sitting and reading while practice was going on and asked him if he had heard me ringing so well. He apologized because he didn't hear when I was ringing! And that, folks, is what its all about.


  1. This is the third time in as many days that I've had occasion to trot out my well-beloved smart-ass remark: "Read the book? But... I haven't even taught the course yet!"

    I suppose I shouldn't be telling too many people how many of my current solid skills have come to me as a result of just "doing it as if I can." Not that they haven't then also been refined by effort and study, but I'm convinced that for at least one class of learner (in which class I'd say you and I both belong) faking it confidently is often the key to the acquisition of real knowledge. Or the catalyst for a breakthrough, anyway, as you have just illustrated.

  2. In my humble opinion ringing comes down to one thing: Rhythm. Now to get said rhythm you have to pull in the listening, the bell handling, blah, blah, blah. Then there is this Oh my God! Rhythm!?! I don’t’ have rhythm! Well, yes you do. You can walk reasonably well right? Well that is rhythm. Try this next time: Think about ringing like pushing a child on a swing. You push the same amount every time they come back to you right? Well think of ringing as pushing a bell on a swing set. Breath easily, relax, bring your bell into place, and then let your body fall into a rhythm of swinging the bell. I have found myself actually pulling the sally ever so slightly toward me as I catch it and pushing it ever so slightly out as I pull it down.

    One last note to think about. I have found that most bells (maybe up the 8 or so at St. Luke’s) do not need to be pulled at the back stroke. Give the sally just enough of a pull to bring the bell to (not over!) the balance at handstoke. Then when the time comes pull just enough to tip the bell back over the balance and just keep the rope strait. The hand stroke will rise –by itself- to the balance. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it is worth mastering now.

    These are two things that are the most important and hardest things for a bell ringer to learn. Learn them now and you will float though plain hunt right into trying to do methods!