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.
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)
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.
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