Asking Nature’s Permission:

On a walking meditation, or hike, or just within the retreat grounds, invite children to find a place outside that they are attracted to and interested in.

Invite them to approach this place in silence and to ask for permission to sit or just be there. They listen for a few moments to see how nature responds. They may receive a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If the response is ‘no’, they can find another spot and ask again. You can explain that nature sometimes gives us a ‘no’ because the area is not safe for us or something in that area needs protection.

Then they spend a few minutes sitting quietly in the area they have chosen. Come back together and ask them to share about their experience. What attracted them to that spot? How did they feel nature’s response?

Some things that people share represent a ‘yes’ answer for them are a soft breeze, or the song of a bird, or a warm feeling in their chest. Some have shared that ‘no’ answers are a sharp or sudden sound, or an uncomfortable physical feeling, like getting stung by nettles or caught on thorns.

There are no right or wrong experiences. The exercise is simply to build our awareness and connection to nature and to cultivate our humility with regards to nature to relearn that we are part of nature and do not need to dominate it.

Adapted from The Web of Life Imperative by Michael J. Cohen

Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh

In Plum Village we do a practice called “Touching the Earth” every day. It helps us in many ways. You too could be helped by doing this practice. When you feel restless or lack confidence in yourself, or when you feel angry or unhappy, you can kneel down and touch the Earth deeply with your hand. Touch the Earth as if it were your favorite thing or your best friend.

The Earth has been there for a long time. She is mother to all of us. She knows everything. The Buddha asked the Earth to be his witness by touching her with his hand when he had some doubt and fear before his awakening. The Earth appeared to him as a beautiful mother. In her arms she carried flowers and fruit, birds and butterflies, and many different animals, and offered them to the Buddha. The Buddha’s doubts and fears instantly disappeared.

Whenever you feel unhappy, come to the Earth and ask for her help. Touch her deeply, the way the Buddha did. Suddenly, you too, will see the Earth with all her flowers and fruit, trees and birds, animals, and all the living beings that she has produced. All these things she offers to you.

You have more opportunities to be happy than you ever thought. The Earth shows her love to you and her patience. The Earth is very patient. She sees you suffer, she helps you, she protects you. When we die, she takes us back into her arms.

With the Earth you are very safe. She is always there, in all her wonderful expressions like trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunshine. Whenever you are tired or unhappy, Touching the Earth is a very good practice to heal you and restore your joy.

 ~ from “A Pebble for Your Pocket”, page 44.

Bell of Mindfulness

From Mindfulness Bell issue #48

Note:  What you might say is in boldface.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.

Materials Needed:

Bowl bell and its cushion

Inviter

Did you know the Buddha calls us?  Today we will listen to see if we can hear the Buddha calling us.

Listen, I think he is calling us now!

Bow to the bell and if it is a small bell, mindfully pick it up.  Bow to the inviter and pick it up.

Smile to the bell and the inviter and breathe in and out.

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness.  We send our hearts along with the sound of the bell.

Awaken the bell by placing the inviter on the rim of the bell and holding it there.

After breathing in and out, invite the bell to sound and allow it to sing.

Breathe in.  I listen.  I listen. Breathe out. This wonderful sound brings me back to my True Self.

Set the inviter down.  Return the bell down on its cushion.  Bow to them.

Did you hear the Buddha call to us?  When we hear a bell, we are hearing the Buddha calling us!  That is why we stop whatever we are doing and show respect to the Buddha in the bell.  We stop our moving.  We stop our thinking.  We stop our talking and we listen to the beautiful sound of the Buddha.  It is not the Buddha from a long time ago who is calling us; it is the Buddha inside ourselves; it is our Buddha nature.   We smile when we hear the call.  We breathe in and we say to the Buddha inside ourselves-to our Buddha nature, “I listen.  I listen.”  Then we breathe out and say to our Buddha nature,  “That wonderful sound brings me back to my true, kind, loving self.”

Would you like to learn to invite the bell?

Guide a child through the procedure described above (in italics).

Guide other children as they learn to invite the bell, following the same procedure above.  All of the children might say the “I listen” gatha together each time the bell is sounded.

Sometimes the Buddha is a bell.  Sometimes the Buddha is a bird singing.  Sometimes the Buddha is a baby crying or a telephone.

Can you think of other sounds that the Buddha inside you might use to call you back to your Buddha Nature? (my dad calling me, an alarm clock, thunder, wind in the trees, a rooster crowing, the sound of a river, an airplane flying over my house, a horn honking, my cat meowing)

Can you think of ways other than sounds that the Buddha inside you might use to call to you?  Things you might see or smell or touch that will remind you to come back to your Buddha Nature? (sunset, finding a lost toy, butterfly, storm, dinner cooking, my cat crawling up in my lap, iris, my dog wagging his tail, my favorite stuffed animal)

Why do you think the Buddha inside you-your Buddha Nature-wants to get your attention? (to remind me to be happy; to remind me to love the person I’m with; to remind me to be kind)

Wherever you are, it is wonderful to listen for the Buddha.  Or to look for the Buddha.  Or to see if you can smell or feel the Buddha calling you.  When we get back together again, we will share with each other the different ways the Buddha has called us!

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

Peanut butter Balls: Interbeing

Time

This activity can take 1 or 2 days, depending on the ages and interests of the children and how much time you have. Note:  What you might say is in boldface.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.

Materials

Peanut butter

Dried Oatmeal

Honey

Sunflower seeds

…And any or all of these:

  • Cinnamon
  • Raisins
  • Dried cherries
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chocolate chips
  • Coconut flakes
  • Dried date pieces
  • Chopped almonds

Big bowl

Cookie sheets and/or trays

Napkin for each person being served

Refrigerator (optional)

Wash your hands.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has taught us two little poems to say when we wash our hands.

If children can read, one might read the gatha, as the other turns on the water and washes her hands.  If children cannot read, the guide can read the gatha while the children wash their hands.

Turning on the Water

Water flows from high in the mountains.

Water runs deep in the Earth.

Miraculously, water comes to us,

And sustains all life.

Washing your Hands

Water flows over these hands.

May I use them skillfully

to preserve our precious planet.

Prepare the peanut butter balls

Combine all ingredients –the amounts are determined by the number of balls you want to make, how much of the various ingredients you have and how much you like each of the ingredients.  Add the dry oatmeal to thicken, the honey to make it thinner.

Taste to see if they’re delicious.  Add more ingredients if you like.

When the dough is just right, pinch off a piece and roll it between your hands until it forms a ball about the size of a jack’s ball.  Children might like to invent a gatha for doing this!  (Wet hands keep the dough from sticking.)

Place each ball on a cookie sheet.

When all of the dough has been formed into balls, put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to chill until it is time to serve the Grown-Up Sangha. The snacks can sit for a week in the refrigerator if covered.

Discussion

Can you see a cloud in our peanut butter balls?  Can you see a big truck?  Can you see a lot of different people in our peanut butter balls?

If you look deeply, you can see all of these things…. and everything else as well!  Let me help you look.  What is peanut butter made of?

(peanuts)

Where do peanuts come from?

(plants)

What do peanut plants need to grow?

(air, water, soil, light.)

Where does the peanut plant get the water it needs to grow?

(rain)

Where does rain come from?

(clouds)

Aha!  So that means there are clouds in our peanut butter balls, right?  We could not have peanut butter balls if we did not have clouds, could we?

I said that I can also see a big truck in our peanut butter balls.  Do you see it, now, too?

Can you explain how it got there?

(Accept all responses that show interbeing, e.g., “Trucks have to bring the nuts from the farm to the grocery store”.)

What else do you see in our peanut butter balls?

(This should be a very lively discussion!  There is, of course, nothing that is not in the peanut butter balls, so all answers are “right”!  Our children said, “I see Brazil because the cocoa that our chocolate chips are made from comes from there.” “I see the sunshine because sunflowers need sun.” “I see the people who picked the peanuts.”  Continue the discussion until someone realizes that every one and every thing is in every one and every thing; that the all is in the one.)

We saw a cloud and a big truck and people and a lot of other things in our peanut butter balls. Can we see ourselves in our peanut butter balls?

(Invite children to explain. “I’m in the peanut butter balls because I made them.”  “I’m in the peanut butter balls because I’m in the sun and the sun is in them!”)

Can we also see the cloud and big truck and other people in ourselves?  Why? (“Yes, because they are in the peanut butter balls, and I am in the peanut butter balls; we are all in each other!”  “I looked up at a cloud, so it is in me.”  “I saw a truck once!”)

Why is it important to know that every one and every thing is a part of everything else?  Why do we need to be able to see the cloud and big truck and all people and all those other things, including ourselves, in our peanut butter balls and in each other?

(“So that we will remember to take care of all things.”  “So we don’t feel lonely.”  “So we will love all people.”)

NOTE:  You may want to complete this activity the next time you meet with the children.  If so, cover and store the peanut butter balls in the refrigerator until you meet again. (They’ll be less sticky when they’re chilled.)  You might want to review the previous discussion– using different examples– as a way of introducing the second day’s activity.

After the discussion, the children might like to practice serving each other before offering the snacks to the adult sangha. They will need to know how and why to bow [see Bowing activity]. A suggested way of serving follows.

Serve the peanut butter balls.

To serve the snacks, either place the peanut butter balls on pretty trays, or use the cookie sheets.  Here is how we served our Adult Sangha.  You might have other ways:

“Our Grown-Up Sangha is sitting in a big circle.  There are places for us to sit, too.  We enter the circle with our trays of peanut butter balls and napkins.  We each go to a grown-up and kneel, placing our tray on the floor before him.  We smile, put our hands together in the form of a flower and bow to the grown-up.  The grown-up returns our bow then gets a napkin, chooses a snack and puts it on her napkin.  We smile and bow to each other again.  Then we stand and go to another grown-up until all the grown-ups have been served.  We put a snack on a napkin in front of the places where we kids will sit, too.  Then we join the grown-ups sitting in the circle.  The Bell Master invites the bell and we all enjoy our snacks together.”

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

Watering Seeds Carefully: Giving our happiness seeds a chance to grow

From Mindfulness Bell Issue #34

Note:  What you might say is in boldface.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.  You might need to reword the questions to get similar answers.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:

2 clear wide mouth jars or clear plastic cups (or cut off the top 1/4 of a clear plastic water bottle)

2 paper towels

Soil

8 lima or pinto beans

You’ll also need:

1 permanent marker

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note:  Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions:

Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel.

Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel.  Fill it about 3/4 full.

Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup.  Make a lot of space between the beans.  Like us, beans like freedom!

Please do the same with the other cup.

Note:  We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds.  One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy.  For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you?  Does it make you happy when you smile at others?  If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing.

What makes you truly happy? (playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises)

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that do not make you happy.  For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry?  If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.”  Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy.

What makes you unhappy? (fights, war, stealing, not sharing)

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Discussion:

These beans are seeds.  If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants.

What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants? (Soil, air, light and water.)

You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds.  Which bean seeds do you want to grow? (Only the Happiness seeds)

How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow? (Give them what they need: soil, air, water and light.)  How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing? (Do not give them soil, air, water and/or light.)

Help the children water their Happiness Beans.  They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups.   We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us.

Note:  Be sure to name the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us.

Note:  Be sure to name the “unhappy seeds ” which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our “seeds” grow, too.

Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light and water, they will grow.  Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air? (freedom, space, time)

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light? (to notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.)

What are some ways we can water (and not water!) the seeds inside ourselves?

Note:  With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves:

Practice:  “One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.”

Awareness:  “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.”

Don’t concentrate:  “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.”

Check my perceptions:  “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend.  Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?”

Act nice:  “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.”

Say a Gatha:  “One way to water the seed of appreciation is to say the food Contemplations gatha.”

Breathe in and out:  “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.”

Don’t watch mean TV shows or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio:  “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.”

Understand:  “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.”

Take 3 Steps:  “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps. 1. Enjoy things that make me happy.  2. Notice when I am sad.  3. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.”

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

(Two sources for grown-ups:  Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

Teasing

Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat.  There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages 2 years old to 14 years old.

“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile.  “Please come sit with me.”  They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“It snowed!”  Julia Kate, who is 6 years old, informs him enthusiastically.

“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins.  “It was so little!”

“But it was snow!” she insists.  “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”

“She did!” Alex, the 9 year old, says.  “And it hit me!”

“Well, what did you do?”

“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate.

“Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children.  “Do you have any questions for me today?”

“I do,” Eliana, a 7 year old, says softly.

“What is your question, Eliana?”

“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues,  “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?”  Chan Huy looks at the child.  There is a long moment of silence.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.

After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers.  The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.

“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.

“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.”

“Hmmm.”  Chan Huy pauses.  Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”

Eliana thinks for a moment.  We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child?  What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.

Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’”  The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.

“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head.  He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips.  She begins to sing.  The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.

Breathing In

Breathing Out

I am blooming like a flower

I am fresh as the dew

I am solid as a mountain

I am firm as the earth

I am free.


Breathing In

Breathing out

I am water reflecting

What is real, what is true

And I feel there is space

Deep inside of me

I am free, I am free I am free.

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

Baby Chicks: No Birth No Death

Note:  What the teacher might say is in bold.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.  You might need to reword the questions to get similar answers.

Materials: Baby chicks (in a big box with a lid and breathing holes)

Activity:

We are going to hold the baby chicks, but before we do, would you like to bow to your chick before you pick it up? (yes)

Why? (to show it we know it has Buddha’s nature; to show our love to it, to respect it)

Before opening the box, let the children listen to the sounds the chicks make.  Our children decided their peeps are bells of mindfulness.

Demonstrate the best way to hold a chick:  bow to it, then tenderly pick it up with one hand under its body; hold its wings down gently with the other hand. Invite children to bow then pick up their chicks.  With very young children, the guide might pick the chick up out of the box and hand it to the child.  Allow the children time to enjoy holding, petting and talking to the chicks.  Return the chicks to their box.  Put the lid on tightly and set it aside.

Discussion:

Where did our chicks come from? (eggs)

Were our chicks born? (yes)

Were they born when they popped out of their eggs? (yes)

I don’t think so!  Being born means from nothing we become something.  Were our chicks nothing before they popped out of their eggs? (no…they were alive inside the eggs).

We’ve discovered that it is not correct to say that our chicks were born when they came out of their eggs because we know that they were alive inside the eggs.

Can we say that the chick was alive before it was inside the egg? (yes)

Can we say that the chick was partly alive in its mom and partly alive in its dad? (yes!)

Do you think that is true of people, too?  Let’s  look at ourselves.  When is your birthday? (Give children time to say their birthday.)

Why do you call that your birthday? (Because that is the day I came out of my mom.)

If we say that we are born on the day we come out of our mamas, it is like saying our chicks were born on the day they came out of their eggs.  And we know that is not true.

Were you nothing before you came out of your mom? (“No! I was alive when I was inside my mom.”  “My mom  said she could hear me and feel me move when I was inside of her.”)

What were you before you were alive in your mom?  Were you nothing? (“No!  I was an idea waiting to happen!” “I was a little egg.” “I was never nothing!”)

So where were you before you were in your mom? (“Part of me was inside my mom and part was inside my dad.”  “I was in my grandparents.”  “Hey! This could go back forever!”)

We can see that you have never been nothing!

Because being born means from nothing we become something…looking deeply, we can say that, like our chicks, we have never been born!

Or maybe we can say that we have always been born.  We have always been something; we have never been nothing.

Sometimes we have been an idea, sometimes we have been a part of other people, sometimes we are who we are right now.  Maybe we have even been a cloud or a flower or a river.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that the day we  call our birthday might better be called our Continuation day.  Why do you think he offers us that idea? (“To remind us that we have never been born.”  “We have always come from something.”   “We are continuing what our ancestors were continuing!”)

Next time you have a birthday party, you might invite your friends to sing Happy Continuation Day To You! (Children might want to sing the adapted Happy Birthday song to each other.)

If you have never been born, can you die? (No!)

How is it that you can stay alive?  How is it possible that you never die? (“Because you know me, I am an idea inside of you.  As long as you are alive I am alive.  Wait!  Then I will be alive in everyone you ever knew!”  “When I have children, I will be a part of them.”  “Am I alive in everything?!  I guess I am!”  “Hey!  This goes forward forever!”)

Why is it important to know that we have never been born and we can never die?

(“Because if you get sick and go to the hospital and they tell you that you are going to die you can say I will never die and when your family comes and they are sad you can say don’t be sad, I will never die.”  “Because if someone tells you that you’re going to die, you won’t be afraid because you’ll know it’s not true.”  “Because when we know we are alive in other people, we will take care of them better.”  “And!  We need to take care of ourselves, too, because if my friend is alive in me, then when I take care of myself, I’m taking care of her, too!”  “My babysitter’s nephew who is 7 died.  I’m going to tell her not to be sad because he can never die!”)

Review what the children have learned by summarizing or synthesizing what they have said, for example:

So knowing that we have never been born and that we will never die keeps us from being sad, keeps us from being afraid, gives us a way to comfort our friends and family, reminds us to take care of others because we are in them and reminds us to take care of ourselves because others are alive in us. Knowing we have never been born and that we will never die helps us be happy and helps us make others happy.

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

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