11 December 2023

The Watch and the Bracelet – life’s conundrum in a simple story…

Take your mind back to the era before smart phones. That time when watches were watches. They told the time; that is what watches did. And sure, they could look pretty, so they did have a secondary function – as adornments, but basically we used them to tell the time.

So here is a gentle challenge… Imagine you only knew your watch to be an adornment. Imagine that rather than being a timepiece, you thought your watch was a bracelet.

Not too hard a mistake to make, but we could fantasise about the consequences, and what such a mistake could teach us about our very own minds, but first

  Thought for the day

    No one knows how to describe the mind’s essence.

   If one describes it by analogy, 

   There will never be an end to describing it.

   You can use many synonyms and terms for it,

   Names such as “mind,” “self,” “alaya,” and so on,

   But in truth, it is just this present knowingness.

             Karma Chakme Rinpoche 17th C 

What a wonderful life it is when spectacular human beings like the Tibetan Buddhist master Mingyur Rinpoche comes to your hometown and offers teachings. Author of “The Joy of Living”, and the monk who left the world behind to go on a 4 year wandering retreat in India with no money or support, Rinpoche has a clarity, good humour and wisdom that is exquisite.

This weekend past Mingyur Rinpoche taught on open awareness meditation and aspects around life, death and dying, and the transitions in between – fabulous and a delight to be there. Rinpoche told this story which is recounted here, with any errors being mine; although it is a simple yet profound story and hard to get wrong…

So… imagine again you have made the mistake of thinking your watch is a bracelet; and we are in an age where there are not many other clocks around. So you are regularly late, maybe even early, for everything, including work. Your boss likes you, but you become increasingly unreliable, so eventually you get fired. Then you lose your car, your house, everything goes from bad to worse, and you end up on the street. 

After a while an old friend spots you!!! 

“Whatever happened to you?” 

“I lost my job, and then my whole world fell apart “ 

“Why did you lose your job, you were good at it.” 

"Yes but I was always late for things…” 

“How come?” And pointing to the watch, “Didn’t you look at your watch?” 

“Oh, I don’t have a watch, this is just a bracelet!” 

So off course, the friend tries to point out that no, it is not just a bracelet; it is in fact a watch.

At first, you are in disbelief; incredulous. “No this cannot be a watch! I have had it for years. It is a bracelet.” “No it is a watch. Look there is a dial, with hands, the hands move around and tell the time… “
Gradually you overcome your doubts, your embarrassment, your shame, and realize you really did have a watch all this time, and learn how to use it. Before long you make a new start, you are punctual and you rebuild your life. And so it goes…

Now take this analogy to our minds. Each one of us has a mind with 2 major functions, and many of confuse these functions, effectively taking our minds to be a bracelet; not a watch. 

The basic function of our watch is to tell the time.

The basic function of our mind is to operate in accord with its true nature.

The watch has a major, secondary function – it can act as a bracelet. 

It can be an adornment that reflects our aesthetic, our taste, our status, our choices.

Our mind has a secondary function – through its capacity to think and express emotions, it can be a servant that supports its primary function. 

That primary function of the mind, to act in accord with its own true nature, results in the mind operating from a place of pure awareness, love and wisdom. 

The secondary function, the thinking, emotive mind can be a real mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent; and worse, it often takes us over and does its best to rule our lives through its conditioned and habitual ways of thinking and acting.

So I loved hearing this story, this analogy from Mingyur Rinpoche. Got we wondering, how can we get over treating the mind like a bracelet, and really recognize we do have a watch? And act from the watch’s perspective, rather than that of the bracelet?
Few suggestions:

1. Hear the truth over and over

The more we hear from people we trust the truth of the connection between our mind’s true nature and the role of its servant the active, thinking, emotive mind; and the more we hear that our own fundamental nature has these pure qualities of awareness, love and wisdom, the more we will start to believe it, and recognise it in ourselves.

2. Contemplate this

The way we take things in is to progress on from simply hearing, to thinking deeply about it; to contemplate what we heard.

3. Draw on models

People like Mingyur Rinpoche model this. 

Less than 10% of new information we take in depends upon the words people say to us. 

It is their lived experience that is so important in this domain.

So, hanging out with people who have their own direct experience of what we are discussing here gives us “a feel” for it. 

Happily, you do not need to be a Buddhist to go to a talk with someone like Mingyur Rinpoche, and there are many people from other traditions, and some of no tradition that carry these qualities; so seek them out, and hangout…

4. Meditate

Meditation is the reliable path to sorting out the bracelets from the watches. This was always meditation’s primary function; to help us to get to know and become familiar with who we really are, and to be confident, to be sure: our mind is like a watch, not a bracelet. It can make quite a nice bracelet, but fundamentally, it is a watch…

Happy meditating...



  1. Thank you very much for this beautiful analogy... may we all treat our minds as watches.

  2. As a daily meditator, this article resonates deeply with me. Meditation has helped me live a calm and balanced existence in a somewhat challenging world. Thank you for sharing this wisdom Ian.

  3. What a wonderful story and teaching ... Thank you.

  4. Wonderful teaching! Can't wait for your retreats next year Ian. Have heard that you are planning to lead them at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, home of the old foundation you started. Is that really going to happen?

    1. Yes, the meditation retreat and 2 meditation teacher trainings will be offered in 2024. Advance details are on the Dec27 post, and full details with booking access will be available soon. Looking forward to this greatly... :)