bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: lessons for kids

children’s lesson: samsara


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As I mentioned in my last post, for the past two weeks, my family has been hidden away at the foot of a small mountain in New Hampshire.  This quiet wintery retreat was an  ideal setting to connect and spend lots of time talking about my favorite topic:  spirit.

One of my favorite teaching moments was during a snowman-making session.  After a fun sledding adventure and snowy tromp through the woods, my 4 year old XG and I spontaneously began to build “Frosty  the Snow Gobes” in the front yard.  We rolled and packed and stacked.  I encouraged XG to take his time, to enjoy the process, to make each ball as round and smooth and perfect as he could.

The snowman, as it turned out, was a perfectly kid-size lesson in samsara.

Our efforts that afternoon would give birth, so to speak, to a wintery masterpiece.   Frosty the Snow Gobes would stand adorably near the entrance to our home and happily greet all who visited.  He seemed like a pretty sturdy guy, but, as I told XG, he was changing by the second.  Melting, freezing, shifting.  And soon, when the weather changes, when an accident happens, Frosty would only exist in our memories.  So it’s important that we enjoy the experience of building him and admiring him while he’s here.  And with the next big snow storm, we could come out and build a snowman all over again.

XG and I chatted about this as we played in the snow.  I told him that everything and everyone here on earth is part of a cycle called samsara.  We are born, we have experiences, we die.  We are born, we have experiences, we die.  We are born, we have experiences, we die.  The experiences live forever; but life that is born from the earth is only here for a short time.  It needs to be returned to the earth to make room for new life with new experiences.  This includes people, animals, trees, homes, cars, electronics and, of course, snowmen.  It’s how the earth works.  And it’s all okay.  It’s all natural.  And when we can understand that every atom on Earth participates in samsara, we can understand how perfectly connected we are to everyone and everything.

XG didn’t have much to say about the impromptu lesson, but he was listening carefully.  The door was open for him to ask questions if he needed, and that’s what was most important to me.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  Please share this with bu-curious friends.  Thank you!  🙂

protecting kids from bad news

I wrote this article, which was printed in the Winchester Star on October 4, 2013:

An upcoming media frenzy is quietly building in Winchester.  While we get a kick out of having our town being featured in Boston Magazine’s “Best of” issues or spotlighted Chronicle for our gorgeous homes, an entirely different kind of attention will be focused on our charming little cityburb over the next months.  Satellite trucks will be rolling in, filled with reporters, cameramen and field producers, looking for 20 second sound bytes to fill their air.  This is the sort of attention we’d rather not have, but with jury selection for the Mortimer trial beginning on October 9th, the scenario is all too likely.

We don’t just live in this community.  We are this community.  The pain and the heartbreak experienced by those closest to the victims were absorbed on some level by all of us.  How do we armor ourselves and protect our neighbors against the flurry of sadness that is bound to return?  And more importantly, how do we shield our children?

Bill McAlduff, superintendent of schools in Winchester, has no special programming in place that would re-introduce the tragic loss of our neighbors to school children.  He does, however, have crisis teams in each building and says that teachers’ protocol is to, “end any discussion that is found to be inappropriate for the classroom and direct concerned students to the school psychologist.”

Robin Shapiro, director of LEAP School in Lexington where 4 year old Finn and 2 year old Charlotte attended, presents advice as one who has managed some tough conversations with little ones.  To protect the privacy of families and faculty, she did not comment directly on specific conversations, but offers this:

“My advice to parents of young children when facing any kind of tragic situation, loss or major life event is to first try and process the situation away from your child, before entering into any kind of conversation with your child(ren).  It is hard for most adults to understand these kind of traumatic situations and make sense of them, so it is natural that it would be very confusing and scary to young children to be part of the parent’s processing.

“I encouraged parents on the day of 9/11 to be very aware of the media in their home, the adult conversations in the presence of their young children, and to take time for themselves to work through their emotions first, before discussing events like 9/11 with their small children and make a plan of how, when and what you want to communicate to your child(ren).

“Some parents feel the need to talk with their children about many life events, others prefer to avoid these uncomfortable topics.  I find it is important to follow the child’s lead in determining how much information to provide that will satisfy the child’s curiosity, while not too much to create fear and insecurity.  Children need to know that they are safe, that their feelings are valid and have their questions answered in a concrete manner.  It is always helpful to listen carefully to what the children are asking before answering them.”

Deb reminds us to remember older children, too, as they have their own questions and are often in a position of mentoring a small child.  “[Older children] need an opportunity to process information, get their questions answered and receive support to express their thoughts and feelings.  Depending on the age and level of understanding of the older child, it is helpful to let the older children know how you are responding and supporting the younger sibling, and elicit help from the older child without burdening him/her.”

Most child experts would agree that honesty is the best policy, keeping in mind that honesty doesn’t mean full disclosure.  Parents and teachers can respond to children’s questions truthfully and tactfully, providing closure for their curious minds, meanwhile being careful not to scare them or draw them into more difficult questions.  Children do not want to know the whole truth.  They just want to be satisfied with answers provided.

For those interested in learning more about children and grief, Donna Smith Sharff, LMHC, Executive Director of The Children’s Room in Arlington, will be presenting a public program on the subject at the First Congregational Church in Winchester on Monday evening, October 29th.  For  more information visit childrensroom.org or call 617.641.4741.

Tips:

-Identify adult feelings first

-Turn off the news while children are in the room or in the car

-Prepare older children who interact with little ones regularly

-Listen to questions carefully

-Be honest but simple

bu-review for kids: the great gilly hopkins by katherine paterson

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I picked up The Great Gilly Hopkins last week at the library because it was recommended by Girl Scouts of America as a good read for Brownie scouts.  I did not expect this fiction novel by Katherine Paterson to offer up a great lesson in compassion for my BUBs.  (I also did not expect to be crying my eyes out over a book written for 10-year-olds, but that happened, too.)

Gilly is an angry 11-year-old who’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home since she was a baby.  She is guarded, sassy, manipulative, proud, prejudiced and destructive.  But under all of that difficulty is a little girl who desperately wants to belong and be loved.  The characters are fantastic, the plot is simple yet powerful.

The language is a little mature for my kids – ages 4,6,8 – but I read aloud and substituted darn for damn and heck for hell.  There was also a point when I had to stop reading the book altogether and offer an in-depth history lesson on racism in America.  (Gilly’s racist mindset is challenged by two black characters, her neighbor and her teacher, who are likely the most well-educated characters she meets.)

I found that my youngest child slipped in and out of attention – and the room – occasionally asking me why Gilly doesn’t live with her mother.  He was obviously disturbed by my description of the foster care system, hence the repetitive questioning.  My middle daughter was also disengaged.  She fell asleep twice while I was reading.  Other nights she ignored Great Gilly altogether and buried her face in Pokemon comics or math workbooks.  But Gilly provided an extraordinary lesson in compassion for my 8-year-old and me… tandem paradigm shifts.

If you are looking for a Buddhist or bu-curious lesson to teach your kids, ask them to point out moments when folks in the story practice compassion, forgiveness and/or acceptance.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about deeper Buddhist ideas, too – basic karmic law, or cause and effect, and Buddhahood, that beautiful shining gem that exists in each one of us, just waiting to be polished.

Here are some great times to stop the story and discuss the above mentioned ideas:

  • the way Trotter consistently interacts with a grizzly-behaved Gilly
  • the assumptions Gilly makes about Trotter based on her physical description
  • how Mr. Randolph responds to Gilly after discovering her indiscretion
  • Ms. Harris’ reaction to Gilly’s card
  • the point Gilly decides William Earnest is her brother
  • the way Gilly took care of everyone over Thanksgiving

I’d also suggest stopping any time you see your child crying and asking him or her how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  In retrospect, I wish I’d done this more, because PG and I spent a lot of time whimpering and blowing our noses through the last third of the book.

Here’s a list of questions that would be great to ask after reading the book:

  1. When do you think Gilly realized she loved Trotter, W.E. and Mr. Randolph?
  2. Why do you think Gilly wrote letters to W.E. filled with lies and false stories?
  3. Do you think it was very hard for Ms. Harris to stay composed when Gilly gave her that terrible card?  Do you think you could have done that?  Why is it important to stay composed?
  4. Was Gilly a bad kid?  Why or why not?
  5. Was Trotter a good Mom?  Why or why not?
  6. Have you ever thought bad things about somebody because of the way they look, like Gilly did?
  7. What do you think is the meaning of Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem?  (Go through it with them line by line.  When they’re done, tell them what you think it means.)
  8. Why and how do you think people were able to forgive Gilly, even when she behaved so badly?
  9. What do you think Gilly learned from living at Trotter’s?  Could you see her applying her lessons in Jackson, Virginia?  Will Gilly be OK without her Courtney?

Last thing to share, Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem, written by William Wordsworth, which sings to my spirit:

“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore: —

Turn wheresoever I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I know can see no more.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears.”

Love it.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

advice on dealing with difficult people: watch this. it’s fantastic.

My sweet sweet friend DM introduced me to a new teacher this morning:  Ajahn Brahm.  Enjoy this is a fantastic sermon about solutions to dealing with difficult people.  If you’re short on time but would like to enjoy a powerful lesson, fast forward to 12:45. the story will take about 15 minutes.  This is a great one to share with kids, too!  Have them watch and learn about how to deal with bullies in school or challenging teachers and coaches.

We do have a responsibility to help others, don’t we?  People aren’t born assholes.  They become assholes.  This means that they can become kind-hearted, too.  Let’s make our relationships more peaceful by spreading kindness and giving our children tools that can allow them to do the same.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-review: great reads for budding buddhists

Buddhism is a lofty subject.  Or at least it can be.  Buddhist writing can be confusing, especially for someone who is new to the practice, like me.  I prefer not to translate riddles or resort to look-ups on Wikipedia while I read, but to focus on practical lessons.  For this reason, I’ve really enjoyed learning from teachers who write for the masses.  There are some really great authors out there who have an extraordinary ability to make clear and simple sense out of ethereal concepts like inter-being, oneness, karma, the here and now, macrocosms in microcosms and equanimity.  Here are a few:

If you are bu-curious and looking to learn more about the philosophy or if you are a new-bu like me, I encourage you to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay”).  My friend introduced me to him just last spring and I don’t know how I lived so long without his wisdom.  He reminds us that, while Buddhist texts and scriptures can be complicated, life is actually pretty darn simple.  One of my favorite teachings of Thay’s is looking into the eyes of our loved ones and telling them, “I am here for you.”  Simple yet profound, this sentence validates our loved ones’ needs while affirming our own loving commitment.  And it doesn’t require years of Buddhist training to understand or master.  It just takes the desire to love.  Beautiful.  He’s published numerous books (too many to list).  A lot of them are pretty short but the content will surely provide readers with many tiny shifts along the way.  The first shown above, Living Buddha Living Christ, might be his most famous.  The second, Planting Seeds, is an awesome workbook for moms and dads who would like to introduce children to meditation.

Another book that I’ve really enjoyed is one my sister loaned me a couple of years ago – The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Gred Martin and Ted Morino.  It’s an open door to Zen, the Japanese brand of Mahayana born in the 13th century.  Zen was introduced by a monk named Nichiren who saw that Buddhism could have a profound effect on ordinary people and offered folks a path to awakening that was understandable, manageable and downright doable.  In this book, the authors introduce bu-curious readers to the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which, if my interpretation is correct, is the giving over of oneself to the laws of karma, allowing oneself the opportunity to see clearly and compassionately into life’s troubles.  But of course the meaning runs much deeper than that, as does everything in Buddhism.

I’ve been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo quite a bit lately.  You’re supposed to chant it out loud for at least 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I do that, apologizing to my kids for the noise while they play nearby or inviting them to join me.  In fact, I like chanting so much that I’ve been whispering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to myself in half-pigeon pose during sweaty yoga…  or stepping to the beat of the chant when I’m out walking the dog.  I like the idea of discovering the natural rhythm of the world, and me in it, through chanting.  Although sometimes I’ve got to admit, I can’t help but think When did I become this person???  

Another really terrific, easy-to-read book is Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, another gift from a friend.  (Damn, I’ve got some good friends.)  I love this book for a lot of reasons.  Sarah never delves into nuts-and-bolts Buddhism.  Instead she sites practical examples of the ways she and other mommies use Buddhism to get through squeeze-y moments with their own BUBs.  She shares her shortcomings and triumphs, reminding readers that just because she’s a practicing Buddhist, doesn’t mean she’s always Zen.  But when she draws from her practice during tough times, she finds clarity, peace and patience with herself as a mother.


Okay, okay, last one.  Making a Change for Good by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is a self-help workbook.  My friend recommended this book to me because I wanted to break my lifelong habit of being a quitter.  In Making a Change for Good, Cheri teaches readers that through compassionate self-discipline, we can tap into the best part of ourselves.  And our nagging little voices that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t deserve success can be gently diverted away from the main stage of our minds.  The end of the book lays out 30 days of assignments from meditation to journaling that help readers beat bad habits and create lasting positive change.  I liked this book because I could DO something with it.  It was a great tool for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else who’d like to implement a little Buddhism to help make a change for good.

Well that’s a start.  My bookshelf is crammed with great reads that I’m excited to share, but we’ll start with these.  If you have a title that you’d like to offer, please post it here with a short description.  Hopefully it’s not one I’m planning to review!  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

“and now instead of him watching TV we all sit around and watch him”

the blog title and pic above are of shel silverstein’s famous  jimmy jet.  the following quote by robert thurman is in ed and deb shapiro’s book BE THE CHANGE, how meditation can transform you and the world.

“Meditation is a neutral and very powerful tool.  The choice is what are we going to meditate on?  Most people let themselves be guided by a culture that this trying to make them buy things or make them afraid through the news.  When we watch television and we see a commercial, it is like a guided meditation on dissatisfaction.  We have to guide our meditation in a positive direction.  We do this when we meditate on freedom, on penetrating to the deep nature of reality.  In other words, if we meditate on being egotistical, we will become more egotistical, but if we meditate on being selfless, we will become more caring and altruistic.  When we experience ourselves as totally integrated with everyone, we are naturally going to be compassionate and kind to them.”

i never really thought of tube time as meditation, but after reading these words i can see how this is so true.  so often, we sit in front of the television and vegetate.  vegetating is meditating, right?  so whatever is streaming into our consciousness is going to marinate for as long as we sit on the couch with the tube on.  and then it becomes a part of us.  this could be scary.  powerful.  advertisers are changing who we are on a cellular level through commercials.  seriously.  this is true.  and this is CRAZY.  it’s like brainwashing.  no wonder why every kid i see has a friggin pillow pet.  that commercial must run a hundred times a day.  they almost have no choice but to put the thing on their christmas lists.

i just had a conversation with my daughter’s montessori teacher yesterday about how different children are these days – how much bolder they are with adults.  how quick they are to inflict an abrasive comment on their teachers.  there is little doubt, for me, that the kids learn this snarky behavior from TV.  the way children act on “family” sitcoms is atrocious.  the characters are rude to their parents, they are rude to their neighbors, they are rude to other children’s parents.  (i’m thinking of shows specifically on disney and nick – “icarly” and “good luck charlie” such.)  whether we choose to believe it or not, the fact is, our children are modeling their own behavior after these characters.  they think that these actors are cool.  and they think that the behavior of these characters is…  wait for it…  NORMAL.  yes, that’s right.  scary.

and then, of course, is the programming that is pouring into that wide open channel in our adult brains while meditating in front of the TV.  through most news media and dramatic programming we are being programmed to fear.  notice how the tense of the verb changes.  we are no longer actively making a decision about how our brains are functioning; the television producers are making decisions for us.  we ARE BEING programmed.  not to get all big brother on you, but, well, it’s sort of like big brother.  right?

early last year, i banned all real housewives and most news programming from my house.  this was a big decision for me.  i reaaaallllllyyyyy loved my housewives.  BUT.  while watching the new york housewives reunion on bravo, my husband walked into the room and sat down on the couch.  the women on TV were verbally slaying  each other and hubby goes, “oh, v, my jaw is getting tight just listening to this.”  and then i scanned my own body.  my chest was tight and i had a big lump in my throat.  i turned it off and walked away for good.  and then i noticed the physical reactions i had while watching other programming, specifically local news.  i’d get tight and squeeze-y.  i encourage readers to do a physical scan while you watch TV.  it’s madness.  so now i limit my TV intake to programming that lifts me up or educates me.

my kids love TV.  i usually let them watch PBS, animal planet (they love “river monsters”) and some nick jr.  but as of today i’m pulling in the reins.  (oh, god, please give me the strength to do this.)  if they are going to do something as powerful as meditate on an idea for 30 minutes, it’s sure as shit not going to be what some money-focused CEO at disney wants for my kids.

meditation is a powerful tool.  maybe THE MOST powerful tool.  make a mindful decision about how you use it.  start by turning the channel.

from mine to yours,

vanessa

(this entry is reposted with edits from my blog “everything old is new age again“, may 18, 2012.)

BUB’s new theory: the real reason our kids are totally freaking out

i’m overwhelmed by the show of support.  as it turns out, i am not alone…  which is relieving, but also scary.  because that means all of us are living with kids who are on the brink. i spent a good hour talking to friends yesterday about what happened and three hours returning texts and emails and facebook messages to many truly amazing and loving people who reached out to me to share their own experiences. friends offered ideas and self-help strategies and stories or just a voice of support.  some of the advice was dead on.

my friend KF, who understands how my household runs and knows me all too well as a mother, told me i need to institute formal discipline and stick to it.  she helped me work out a plan and suggested how i could approach PG with it.  i did that last night and it went over very well.  oh, and she also reminded me to make sure she’s got a fully belly.

my little mamma VR looked at me after the kids left for school and said, “don’t let them see you cry.  be strong in front of your kids.  you can cry when they’re gone.”  check.  words to live by.  must work on this.

and then i spent a lot of time cleaning out my basement.  i scrubbed and purged and analyzed and came up with this:

our kids are acting like freaks because they are freaked out.  they are growing up in complex, confusing, chaotic times.  and it’s scary.

in kindergarten, one of our children’s first lessons is on the rainforest, which is quickly disappearing.  our children are obsessed with animals and sea life, which are are nearing extinction.  we send them to the safety and comfort of school each day, where there are mandatory drills to protect our kids from not only adults but other children who want to shoot them with a gun.  our children need to eat healthy food to grow strong, but vegetables are filled with pesticides and meat is filled with hormones.  the list goes on…  there are parents who can’t find jobs, there are children dehydrating to death in africa, there are terrorists who fly planes into skyscrapers.

as adults, we process this through prayer or action or mature discussion or nightmares or complete disconnection.  whatever it takes to get through the day.  but kids just absorb it.  they don’t have the emotional or intellectual tools to handle this kind of information.  so they carry it around with them.  it’s not just a one-time frantic freak out.  it’s woven into their list of daily thoughts and fears.  they bring it up at bedtime, over dinner or on a long car ride.  when their minds are quiet and focused, these questions crop up.  they are scared, they are confused, they are stressed.  it’s messing with their basic, primal need for safety.  we’re talking root chakra.  foundation.

when the foundation is not solid, the rest of the body is unstable.  and it creates a child who is off balance, a child who turns into a maniac when just one more challenge is thrown at them.  to add to the instability is the complexity that WE create in the lives of our children. we’re way past self-help books, mommies.  we can unearth tools in books and lectures that can help us harness our strong willed children, but these collective tools are only a bandaid on a bloody gusher.  the real problem isn’t them.  it’s us.

it’s modern american culture.  it’s this big, fast, flashy, plastic american childhood we offer our kids.  i’m guilty of this.  so i am not pulling a self-righteous tirade.  but i truly believe that the solutions to our child-rearing problems are not to be found through books, behaviorists or bandaids.  the solution is found in mindfulness and simplicity.

i think that children who are less stimulated will have fewer behavioral issues.  the homework, the competition, the tutoring, the television, the team sports, the social calendar, the scheduled activities, the playdates, the closet full of clothes, the parties, the toys… each on its own is manageable.  but glopped all together, it’s downright overwhelming.  we can barely handle being responsible for all these things.  and we expect our kids to be?  and what is the purpose for all this activity?  seriously, let me inquire again.  what is the purpose for all this activity?

so now what?  what do we do?  how do we pull in the reigns?  b/c growing up at the speed of life is just too much for our kids to bear.

first, we need to provide our children with a solid foundation in the intangibles.  if there is no time for discussion about spirituality in the day, what the hell we all here for?  to learn to color in the lines?  to be the best athlete on the playing field?  to get into a good school so we can make lots of money and buy shiny things?  well, those things are part of development, part of the human experience, but are they all?  i’d argue no.

i’d say that we are here to learn about love by way of these experiences.  and if our sole purpose here on earth to learn about love, shouldn’t we talk about love more?

when i say love, i don’t mean, “i love my dog,” or, “i love the smell of grass after a rainstorm.”  i mean LOVE.  the love that connects, the love that is infinite, the love that empowers and restores and awakens.  for me, love and god are interchangeable.  and there is nothing that i love to talk about more.

but i admit, for as much as i write about love and talk about love with friends, there is only a casual, sporadic mention of love throughout the week with my children.  we are very busy DOING, leaving very little time for devotion.  so let’s start talking with our kids about god, buddha, love, spirit, allah.  whatever you like to call this magnificent life force.  start with a simple question like this:  where is god?  and just see where the conversation leads.  everyday, try to ask another question about spirit.  if you need prompting, ask me.  i’m happy to provide ideas.

second, with the earthly shitstorm brewing outside our homes, we need to create a sense of hope for our children, mixed in with a dose of acceptance.  because as it stands right now, everything they love is in big fat trouble.  we need to tell them that this planet will survive, that mother earth is STRONG.  we need to present to them examples of this earth regenerating and evolving.

we also need to make sure our children understand that we each have an enormous responsibility to take care of this planet, because this is our home.  and every corner of the planet is connected, just the way each of us human beings is connected.  we need to encourage our children to actively participate in the improvement of our surroundings and show that they can not only carry hope, but also use their own personal power to create a better world.  it doesn’t take a lot to do this.  we can start by doing something as simple as picking up litter while we take a walk.  or giving them a little lesson at the grocery store about buying local and why it’s important.

and then you can instill bigger lessons.  when i visit the city, i try to remember to pack a bag of oranges and bananas.  my kids and i offer a handful of sunshine (oranges) or smiles (bananas) to homeless people that we pass.   i do this because my heart aches for those folks who are suffering.  i imagine how that juicy burst of flavor will feel in their dry mouths.  and i feel like i’m spreading joy.

i want my kids to understand this and learn small ways to help people.  i never know if these lessons stick, but a few weeks ago, PG said to me out of the blue, “remember that time we stopped and talked to the old homeless guy on the street and he didn’t have any shoes on?”  i didn’t remember so she went on.  “well, you asked what he needed and he said, ‘shoes,’ so you gave him 20 dollars and a banana.”  i asked her why she was remembering that story and she said, “because i liked it.”  i told her that it’s important that we help that man who needs shoes, but we can’t take away his suffering, because he is here on earth learning a very important lesson.  and when someday he is an angel he will remember us and thank us for helping him that day.  in retrospect, i should have continued the conversation by asking her some more questions.  but i’ll be sure to do that next time.  i hope that through these lessons i provide my children with tiny shifts that will carry them through adulthood and encourage them to use their superpowers for good, and provide them with a stronger sense of hope and acceptance.

i truly am confident that reminding my children of their own divinity and providing them with a lighter load of activity will help quell these frantic, chaotic, home-wrecking freak-out sessions.  when the world gets too much to bear, take a breath and return to source.

love you guys.

from mine to yours,

vanessa

a new contender in the race for the oval office?

barak?

mitt?

who do you like?

my social views are very liberal, so i lean democrat.  but if a quality moderate republican comes along i’ll swing my vote in the other direction.

my greatest concern has always been social policy.  don’t take our rights away, that’s all i ask.  live free or die, baby.  the issue closest to my heart is gay rights, which should be re-termed “human rights”, because love is a basic human right.  who we love and how we display commitment has absolutely nothing to do with government, federal or state.  my quick story today is spun from this idea.

when we were kids, my sisters and i played house a lot.  one girl would be the mommy, one girl would be the baby and one girl would get stuck being the daddy.  you might as well tell that poor girl to go clean out the garage while the others play.  for a girl, being the daddy sucked.  so every time my daughters play house with their friends, they inevitably start squabbling, “not fair!  i want to be the mommy!”  and inevitably, my girls realize, “it’s okay.  girls can marry each other.  let’s both be mommies.  yay!”

it’s such a simple act of imagination.  but it’s also a beautiful act of acceptance.  kids today provide me with an extraordinary feeling of hope for our future and pride in this generation of parents who are rearing children to be open and accepting of others as they have been created.

with this in mind, i see clearly that the man in the oval office may wield power over current domestic  policy, but the future of this country lies in the hands of a new generation.  the tides are changing, people.  the emerging generation is aware.  they are awake.  they are becoming mindful.  they are innovative.  they are compassionate and sensitive.  they are already changing the world.  and i have nothing but faith and confidence in these children.

this morning while i was making chocolate chip pancakes, my son XG, my 3 year old son, *3 YEAR OLD SON* said out of the blue, “mamma, did you know giwls can mawwy giwls?”  my husband MG and i looked at each other then looked back at him.

“that’s right, buddy,” said MG, waiting patiently to see where the conversation would go.

after a minute i said, “you are very smart, little man.”

“yup,” he said.  “boys can mawwy boys, too.  and batman defeats spidewman.”

well, that decides it.  XG gets my vote this november.  oh, and he gets an A+ on his acceptance and compassion lesson this week in buddha school.

from mine to yours,
vanessa
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children’s lesson: breathing room

I’m reading a TERRIFIC book by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community called Planting Seeds, Practicing Mindfulness with Children.  It’s a compilation of teaching moments and mindfulness lessons that are suited for anyone dealing with children.

This is a book that every teacher or parent should read, though if you are new to meditation I’d recommend reading a book like Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes first to familiarize yourself with the science behind meditation and the benefits associated with a regular practice.  Those who are “in the know” can jump right in and get to work.  The lessons are easy and practical.

There were so many stand-out lessons for me in this book, so I decided to choose a few from the first half of the text and experiment with them on my children.  When the kiddos woke up this morning, I told them we were going to be having a “Lazy Sunday”.   Daddy was golfing so it was just us.  I kept the day a bit of a mystery but offered a few teasers to get them eager to participate.

  • After breakfast, we got dressed and prepared for our first Pebble Meditation by collecting four stones each.  I told them they could go outside and find stones in the garden or they could raid the tumbled crystal collection in my bedroom.  Of course they went straight for my stash.
  • Next we visited my sewing station.  We each selected a bit of fabric so that we could stitch up our own tiny pebble bags.
  • After that, we reinvented our sleeping porch by turning it into our very own Breathing Room.  (Sorry, CG, you lost your room again, but we’ll find you a worthy alternative. 😉 )  A Breathing Room is a space devoted to devotion.  If you don’t have a separate room available, just create a quiet corner in your classroom or living space.  We carried my altar into the room and talked about its adornments.  A Buddha statue, a bell and a vase of fresh flowers.  The Buddha reminds us that the Buddha lives inside us, a bell will help us engage in mindful breathing each time it’s invited and the vase of flowers remind us that we are alive and fresh.  We then scattered some cushions and rugs around the floor and stepped back to admire our work.
  • Then I showed them how to bow when we enter the room, creating a separation between the chaos of the house and the calmness of the Breathing Room.  We also talked about taking the time to bow to the great energy that exists within us, the Buddha within.  We tried some different ways of bowing – bending at the waist, prostrating our bodies to the ground, taking child’s pose.
  • When we settled onto our cushions, we sat criss-cross apple sauce, stretching our backs long and keeping our heads high.
  • The first thing we did was talk about the bell.  Every time the bell is invited, we stop whatever we’re doing and take 3 cleansing breaths.  I taught the kids to fist “wake up the bell” by tapping it lightly with the stick,wait a second, then “invite the bell” by striking it confidently one time so we could all listen to its sound and think about our breath.
  • We spoke about breath.  We felt the rise and fall of our bellies for 10 breaths, just paying attention to the changes in our bodies.  We held our fingers under our nostrils and took 10 breaths, noticing the temperature and humidity changes in the air we took in and out.  How does that happen?  Why is it warm?  What does breath do?  Where does it go?
  • When I felt the kids understood the calming effects of focusing on breath, we moved onto the Pebble Meditation.  You can download a worksheet created by the nuns and monks at Plum Village here if you’d like.  My kids are very young so I created a custom version of the meditation that gave them a little wiggle room.  Here is what we did:
  1. Lay out plain paper, folded in quarters, and a box of crayons.  Ask them to pick out a pebble from their bag and lay it to the left of the paper.  In the first box, ask the kids to color a picture of a flower.  While they color, talk about flowers.  How they grow, how the smell, how we feel when we see them.  Reference the book here, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a beautiful script for us.  When the kids are done coloring, they’ll want to talk about their work.  When they’re ready, ask them to hold their pebbles and sit up straight and tall.   They can examine the pebble, rub it, squeeze it while they sit.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh.  Flower, fresh.”  Ask them to repeat the words.  Then one child invites the bell (they love that bell) and we breath in and out three times together, imagining ourselves as flowers.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  Then put the pebbles in their little homemade pouches and move onto the next picture.
  2. Reach for the next pebble and place it to the left of the picture.  In the next box, ask them to draw a mountain.  Again, refer to the book for just the right words.  But ask them what they think lies in the center of a mountain.  Is it loud?  Is it busy?  Is there life?  What happens to the inside of the mountain when it snows or when the wind blows?  Does it change with the conditions? (See where we’re going here?)  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.  Breathing out, I feel solid.  Mountain, solid.”  Then invite the bell and follow the same routine, substituting flower/fresh for mountain/solid.
  3. Place the another pebble next to the paper.  In the next box, invite them to draw a placid lake.  Read Thay’s words from Planting Seeds, then provide them with any extra interpretation that they might need, as this one is a bit loftier than the others.  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as still water.  Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.  Water, reflecting.”  Then finish this portion in the same manner as the others, closing by moving the pebble into the pouch.
  4. Rest the final pebble next to the picture and encourage the children to fill the last box with a picture of space.  They might need some direction drawing space or even understanding what it is.  I chose to point out the space that separated the four of us sitting in the room, but even while it separated us, we were still very much together.  Everyone drew something different, my oldest left the box blank.  All of it’s okay.  Take this time to share Thay’s words then pick up the last pebble.  Share the gatha.  ” Breathing in, I see myself as space.  Breathing out, I am free.  Space, free.”  Take you breaths after inviting the bell then finish up that segment of the meditation.

  • When you finish the Pebble Meditation, take a few minutes to ask the children how each portion made them feel.  Ask if they were able to take three breaths without getting distracted.  Ask how they felt when they pictured themselves as a mountain.  Did they feel strong?  Can they remember that feeling next time they are scared or worried?
  • We ended our practice by bowing to each other with hands at heart center and saying, “Namaste,” or, the sacred light in me bows to the sacred light in you.

After this, we continued on with our Lazy Sunday by taking a walk downtown.  We had lunch on the town green then treated ourselves to a froyo at Swizzles.  Even Rufus was rewarded with a cool treat.

We then bought some poster board so we could create our very own Pebble Meditation poster  to hang in the Breathing Room.  But before heading back, we spent a little more time in the park to play.  We did a walking meditation that is suggested in Planting Seeds.  We started walking in circles around a raised bed flower garden in the center of the garden.  With each step, thought about how our feet felt each time they connected with the bricks.  We moved in slow motion.  As slow as we could.  Then we walked super fast.  Then we pretended we were walking through as swamp.  Then we were business men late for a meeting.  Then we were bunnies then moonwalkers then tightrope performers then superheroes.  This went on for five minutes or so.  And we all had a ball.

Once we got home, I suggested we work on the poster but the kids were done being BUBs and preferred to pull out blankets and sheets to built a fort.  It wasn’t long before they started screaming bloody murder and bludgeoning each other with their stuffed animals.  Ah well.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-curious word of the day: mahayana ‘n more!

Taking some more baby steps today.  Here are a few more basic terms that I’ve come across often in my first months of Buddhism.

MAHAYANA:  Pronounced “mah-huh-yah-nah”.  This is the branch of Buddhism that originated in India and is believed to be the closest to the Buddha’s teachings.  Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan traditions are derived from Mahayana.  Through this vein of Buddhism, practitioners evolve for the benefit of all sentient beings.  Mahayanists treasure the contributions made by Bodhisattvas throughout history, whose compassionate and wise contributions are told in classic Buddhist stories and scripture.

BODHISATTVA:  Pronounced “boh-dee-saht-vah”.  The Bodhisattva is inspired through compassion to awaken through a committed Buddhist practice that benefits all sentient beings.

SENTIENT BEING:  This term can represent all conscious life, but it also refers to those who are not enlightened and are therefore trapped in Samsara.

SAMSARA:  Pronounced “sham-sah-rah”, this is the unending cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.  Enlightenment releases sentient beings from Samsara.

BODHICITTA, “boh-dee-chee-tah”, this is the compassionate state of mind of the Bodhisattva that serves as primary motivation for all actions.

The Bodhisattva’s vow from the Avatamsaka Sutra:

Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.

AVATAMSAKA SUTRA:  Loosely translated in English as the Flower Garland Scripture, this is 40 chapters of scripture about interbeing and the path to enlightenment as taught by the Buddha not long after he became enlightened around 500 BC.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

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