Pebble Meditation

The first of 6 Guided Meditation Cards (a variation of Pebble Meditation)

The first of 6 Guided Meditation Cards (a variation of Pebble Meditation)

Resources for Pebble Meditation

Click on the items below for the booklet of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching the complete practice of pebble meditation, the pebble meditation practice sheet, and colorful Pebble Meditation Cards that guide children through pebble meditation step by step ( you can cut them out and laminate them and then punch a hold in them and string them together).

pebble meditation booklet

pebble-meditation-cards-all-in-one2

pebble-meditation-practice-sheet

A summary of Pebble Meditation

We invite each child to sit up straight and relaxed and place four pebbles on the ground next to him or her. We invite three sounds of the bell. Then we invite each child to pick up the first pebble and say:

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh. Flower, fresh (3 breaths)

The keywords we continue to practice silently are “flower, fresh” and we breathe together quietly for three in and out breaths, really being a flower and becoming fresh. The next three pebbles are:

Breathing in I see myself as a mountain, breathing out, I feel solid. Mountain, solid. (3 breaths)

Breathing in I see myself as still, clear water, breathing out, I reflect things as they really are. Clear water, reflecting. (3 breaths)

Breathing in I see myself as space, breathing out, I feel free. Space, free. (3 breaths)

End with three sounds of the bell. (Children are very capable of guiding this meditation for other children. They really enjoy inviting the bell for each other).

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.

You can also invite the children to find more pebbles that can represent their mom and dad, friends, etc. and when they hold that pebble they breathe in and out and feel love and connection to that person. You can also lead a pebble meditation based on the six paramitas[1], the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) or on the Four Immeasurables (loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity). The pebbles can be used to reflect on many different practices, it is up to you. So, for instance, with the Four Immeasurables, the children would take a first stone and write loving kindness on it. They would breathe mindfully and  take a few minutes to reflect on what loving kindness is and how they can practice it in their daily life. They would then put it to one side, take a second pebble and reflect on the qualities of compassion, and so on.


[1] The six paramitas, or six perfected realizations, elements that help us cross from the shore of suffering and ignorance to the shore of liberation are: generosity, diligence, mindfulness trainings, inclusiveness, meditation and understanding.

Pebble Bag Treasure Hunt

You can make or buy pebble meditation bags for this activity. They can be small, perhaps 3 by 3 inches. You can buy special pebbles or collect them in nature. Put four in each bag. (You can also have the children make their own pebble bags and collect their own pebbles. You need to have circles of soft, thin cloth already cut, the size of an adult plate. Have yarn and enough embroidery needles ready– the eye of these needles should be big enough for your yarn. The children can draw on or paint their cloth bags. Let them dry and then show the children to sew big stitches an inch away from the edge of the cloth and pull the yarn closed to make a pouch. They can choose pebbles carefully, looking for one that reminds them of a flower, another that looks like a mountain, then one for clear water, and another for space.)

Take the pebble meditation bags to a nice spot in the open air (where there are trees or bushes) and hide the bags all around.  You can hang them on tree branches or on bushes, hide them beneath fallen leaves…etc.  Then when everything is set, take the children to this spot and let them hunt for their pebble bag.  One bag is allowed for each child, or they could help each other find them for one another.

Before the Hunt

To help the children see the beauty of the practice of pebble meditation we can emphasize its value by seeing the pebbles in the bag as being jewels and a treasure to discover, hence the idea of the treasure hunt.  We can orientate them before the hunt and tell them that they are about to seek an object so vital for their happiness.  The children are most likely to see how special their pebble bag is when they have made the effort to seek it out.

After the Hunt

The children return indoors, or to a space more enclosed than the open air, this can help the concentration of the children. Small tags can be handed out so that each child can write his or her name on and attach onto their pebble bag.  The bags will be collected at the end of the session and placed onto the altar of the children’s room, or a special corner that has a sacred meaning.  This helps the children and everyone see that the pebble bags and the practice of pebble meditation is special and sacred.

Sharing the Practice of Pebble Meditation

The children can sit in a circle with the pebbles taken from the bag and placed to either their left or right side.  Click here for the pebble meditation booklet transcribed from Thay’s teachings on Pebble meditation to help you guide them in the practice.

If we have our own experience on the practice of pebble meditation, or even our own experience of guided meditation that we can interpret into children’s language, it will enrich the sharing with the children.

After the sharing and practice we gather all the pebble bags (already with the children’s name attached to their personal bag) and place them on the altar.  They can be left on the altar until the practice can be done again, each time the bags taken down from the altar and given out to the children.  It is nice if the practice can be done for five or ten minutes at the end of each day, or at least during the course of the evening activity time, (perhaps contemplation of one pebble at a time, and the completion of all four pebbles by the end of the week).

At the end of their stay, or the end of the retreat, the children get to take their pebble bag home with them, along with the small booklet, to help them continue to practice at home.

 

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.

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

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

The Two Promises

I vow to develop understanding in order to live peacefully with people, animals, plants, and minerals.

I vow to develop my compassion, in order to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

During every family retreat, children learn about the Two Promises, mindfulness trainings for children. We learn a song about them and talk about how they can help us in our lives. The children have the opportunity to receive the Two Promises, in a formal ceremony just before the adults receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings transmission. The children receive a Dharma name and a certificate to remind them of their promises.

Before the children receive the Two Promises, they are asked to write about their aspirations and why they want to receive them. Here are some responses (taken from I have arrived, I am home: Celebrating 20 Years of Plum Village Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh):

I want to take the two promises because it will make me more mindful, and the people around me will be happier. I also think they will make me be less nervous when I am meeting new people.

—Joanna S., Loving Home of the Heart, age 12

I would like to take the promises so I learn how to love others deeply.

—Mary Ann N., Precious Stream of the Heart, age 11

1. I hope the two promises will help me to understand my family’s needs better.

2. I also hope I can teach myself and other people to feel compassion for other people and myself.

3. I would like to take the Two Promises and learn the song better so that I can teach it to kids that are interested in Buddhism, but aren’t Buddhist.

—Siena D., Healing Joy of the Heart, age 11

Because I care about nature, animals, and people. I want to live peacefully and to be happy.

—Laetitia C., Joyful Garden of the Heart, age 11

I would like to be more compassion[ate]. I would like to understand myself and other people better.

—Djuna W., Radiant Smile of the Heart, age 10

Because Understanding and Compassion is me.

—Jenna B., age 9

I want to be mindful.

—Angelique C., age 11

Because they will help me be with people more easily, make my life happier.

—Nguyen An L., Peaceful Joy of the Heart, age 7

To help me remember to be nice to all living things.

—Julia L., Gentle Flower of the Heart, age 6

Because I feel I will have a better life if I do it.

—Erin A., Amazing Grace of the Heart, age 6

I want to have a memory of Thich Nhat Hanh because he is nice. He is fun with children, and I like singing and praying.

—Max M., Peaceful Strength of the Heart, age 7

I really want to understand and help other things. I want to be a veterinarian to help animals. I want to make sure that there are no more poachers in the world, plant a lot more trees and seeds, and help people that are suffering.

—Maeve K., Great Offering of the Heart, age 7

I want to receive the Two Promises because if I have understanding then I can be respectful, nice, and helpful, and giving. If I have compassion, then I can love my relatives more, and I can also listen to people better.

—Ryah B., Generous Listening of the Heart, age 11

I want to climb the path of mindfulness like a monkey. I am flexible; I am deep…swimming like a fish.

—Hayden C., Playful Support of the Heart

I want to receive the Two Promises because it will help me to understand my brother and sister when I water their seeds of anger and seeds of joy and compassion–to live peacefully with them.

—Hylan K., Skillful Gardener of the Heart, age 12

An Introduction to the practice of Touching the Earth for Children: Mara and Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

The Buddha was a person, just like you and me. As a prince, he was called Siddhartha Gautama and he lived in the north of India and Nepal about 2500 years ago. He had everything he could want: a beautiful palace, riches, the best foods, luxurious vacations and plenty of power. But he wasn’t happy. He knew something important was missing in his life. He still hadn’t been able to tame his mind, he hadn’t learned how to be peaceful, happy and free. Anger, fear and confusion kept him from being truly happy.

So he decided to become a monk and he went to live and practice in the forest. He had been practicing for six years when he finally felt he was near Enlightenment. He had been feeling more and more peaceful, aware of his thoughts and feelings and was feeling much happier with his simple life, and now he was on the verge of completely breaking through his suffering to total liberation and happiness. So that night, he sat down under the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to get up until he was fully awakened.

But usually whenever we want to do something that is very important to us, we meet challenges. Siddhartha sat in deep concentration under the Bodhi tree and guess who came to disturb him? Mara. That’s right! The bad guy, the force that pulls us away from what we want, from what we know is right. Mara is out there, but he or she is also inside of us, just like the Buddha is inside each of us. So that night, Mara was determined to prevent Siddhartha from becoming enlightened. So he sent his beautiful daughters and the finest musicians to play and dance for him. In your case, it could be an ice-cream truck passing by, or your favorite TV program or movie. Mara comes in many disguises, and when we really want to focus on something (like our homework, building something, etc) Mara distracts us and tries to pull us away from what we want. But you know what Siddhartha did? He kept sitting peacefully, fully concentrated on his in-breath and out-breath.

Shall we sit beautifully like Siddhartha and breathe in and out quietly to help him resist Mara? And you know what? The dancing daughters and musicians, the ice-cream truck, the TV show, disappeared. So that was Mara’s first challenge: distraction and desire.

Well, you know Mara didn’t give up easily. Next, he sent his army of soldiers on foot and on horseback, all armed with terrible spears, bows and arrows. They lined up in formation and all took aim at Siddhartha. He remained solid, unafraid. Arrows, spears whizzed through the air and lightening speed! But, amazingly, as soon as they came near Siddhartha, they turned into flowers and fell at his feet!

Let’s breathe in and out three times like Siddhartha to help him stay calm. And guess what? With this all the soldiers disappeared. Because when we are calm, peaceful and clear-minded, when we have love in our hearts, other people’s unkindness doesn’t have to hurt us. We don’t have to let it wound us or make us angry and sad. If we know how to look at other people’s arrows, of meanness, jealousy, and exclusion,  as their misunderstanding, their suffering, then we won’t get hit by their arrows. Instead, they will turn into flowers that fall at our feet. So that was Mara’s second challenge: fear.

Mara wasn’t finished with Siddhartha yet, because as you probably know, when we want to do something that is really important to us, the greater the challenges we face. This time Mara used his worst weapon yet: DOUBT. He himself came before Siddhartha, and with hands on his hips asked, “What makes you think you can be enlightened? Who do you think you are? You’re just a nobody!”

This is a terrible thing to do to someone-make them doubt themselves. We should try our best to speak in a way that gives people self-confidence. Anyway, you know what Siddhartha did when Mara questioned him like this? He wasn’t shaken. He sat very still and put one hand down and touched the earth. Let’s all do that, one hand in your lap and one hand touching the earth.

Let us breathe three times with Siddhartha, to help him get through this most difficult challenge. Siddhartha calmly said

“I call on the Earth as my witness that I can become enlightened.”

And right away, the earth shook and the Earth Goddess sprang up from the ground in all her glory and splendor. She put her hand on Siddhartha’s shoulder with all her support and love and she looked at Mara “Don’t you mess with this Siddhartha here. No, Mara, you are wrong! This monk is going to be enlightened and help all beings find peace and freedom.” And with that Mara disappeared, totally defeated.

And sure enough as the morning star appeared in the sky, Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and understood that everyone has the nature of Enlightenment but they don’t know it. That means you and me. So this story reminds us that the Earth is always there for us, ready to support us and help us when we have difficulty.

Now we are going to practice Touching the Earth so that we can connect to the people and things that always love and support us. The Earth is so huge and so powerful, we just have to lay our head down on her and rest, relax completely and we will feel her energy and strength come into us. So anytime you feel upset, lonely, scared or confused, go to the Earth. Release your feelings onto the Earth and open yourself up to her support and healing energy.

So after I read one sentence, we’ll join our palms and bring them to our forehead, then our heart, in this way uniting body and mind, and then kneel down, resting our forehead on the earth (the child’s pose in yoga) with our palms turned up in a gesture of receiving, of openness, of resting, while we listen to and visualize what is being read. When you hear the bell, you stand up and bow. We will touch the earth three times, first to Mother Earth, then to our parents, then to enjoy and appreciate who we are.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

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