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



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.


Listening to and Inviting the Bell

Listen, listen: This wonderful sound brings be back to my true homeOn our first session with the children in any retreat, we introduce to them the practice of listening to the bell and teach them to invite the bell. Sitting in a circle you can hold up the mini bell and ask if they know what it is. Ask if any of them have one at home. And what is the sound of the bell for? What do we do when we hear the bell? You can share that the sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha, the voice of someone who loves them very much and only wants them to be happy and peaceful. So when we hear the bell, we stop what we are doing and just breathe. We have a chance to rest, to take a break, to enjoy ourselves. We are aware of our in and out breath.

There may be other sounds that make them feel peaceful and happy, can they think of some? Maybe a bird singing, or the sound of laughter, or a baby cooing, or a bubbling brook, or the gentle sound of rain on the roof. These too are also the voice of the Buddha, the sound of awakening, and many sounds can help us come back to the place of calm and peace within us.

(You can read through the activities proposed and choose the ones you feel are appropriate for the group of children you will share with. You don’t need to do all the activities. Especially for younger children, you can shorten the following section.)

Awareness of Breathing

To help the children identify their breathing, ask the children to put their pointer finger horizontally under their nose to feel their breathing. What does their out-breath feel like? (Warm, moist?) Can you feel it? What does the in-breath feel like? You can share that we breathe all the time, but we are usually not aware of it and we take it for granted. But breathing is so important! What would happen to us if we couldn’t breathe?

You can also ask them to put their hands on their belly and notice what happens to their belly when they breathe in and what happens when they breathe out? (Tummy rises when I breathe in and falls when I breathe out). Feel this rhythm for a few moments in silence. Ask them how they feel when they just pay attention to their breathing. Often children share that they feel more peaceful and calm. (Sometimes it also helps to invite the children to lie down with their hands on their belly so they can feel its rise and fall more distinctly. You could also do this in partners and one child sits and gently rests her hands on her partners belly, who is lying down, and they can identify the in- and out- breath together, perhaps counting to a certain number, and then switch.)

You can share how learning to notice your breathing has helped you in difficult moments and how breathing with awareness like this can help them to calm down when they get upset or nervous and also can help them focus better at school, like when they take a test. Any time we are aware of our breathing, whatever we experience in the moment improves-if we are happy, we become happier and if we are suffering, breathing helps us suffer less, to calm down and see things more clearly.

Invite them to notice how many seconds their in-breath lasts and how many seconds their out-breath lasts. Our out breath may be a few seconds longer than our in breath. Ask different children to share how long their in and out-breaths are. They can let the in-breath be normal, but when they breathe out, they can breathe out all the air from their lungs, pulling in their abdomen and let the out-breath be a little bit longer. Then continuing in this style, of slightly lengthening the out-breath, invite them to take one in breath and one out breath and count it as ‘one’, then another in and out breath and count ‘two’ and go all the way up to 10. Ask them if it was easy or hard to pay attention to each breath for ten breaths, or if some lost count. And how it felt to breathe longer on the out-breath.

Breathing with the bell

Now invite the children to count how many breaths they take during one sound of the bell. Tell them you will invite the bell and that when they can no longer hear its resonance, they should raise their hand. Then they can share how many in and out breaths they took during the sound of the bell.

You can share them the poem for listening to the bell:

Breathing in: listen, listen

Breathing out: this wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.

We have a beautiful, safe place inside of us, where we can always go to, that is full of peace. The bridge that takes us to this island within us is our breathing. That’s why the bell is so important, because it helps us go back to this true home, this island of peace and clarity inside of us.

You can play a game where the children walk or run or dance around the room and when they hear the bell, they stop and breathe at least three times. Then continue moving.

Learning to invite the bell

(If there are children in the group who already know how to invite the bell, encourage them to teach the others). Ask the children to sit beautfully  like a Buddha. We can only invite the bell when we are calm and peaceful, because the sound of the bell refelcts our mind. We can only help others be peaceful when we are also peaceful. So we recite this poem before we invite the bell:

Breathing in:             Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness

Breathing out:           I send my heart along with the sound of the bell

Breathing in:             May those who hear it awaken from forgetfulness

Breathing out:           And overcome all anxiety and sorrow

A more child-like version of the above poem is:

I am really here, with my mind and body united. I am calm and happy and I want this sound of the bell to help others feel calm and happy.

A fun exercise for later is to ask the children to write their own poems for listening to and inviting the bell and then to really practice using them whenever they hear or invite the bell.

Tell the children that we say “inviting the bell to sound” not “striking or hitting the bell” because it is a sound that can help many people and we always treat the bell with respect. Then we join our palms and bow to express our respect to the bell and also to show the unity of our mind and body. We pick up the bell and place it in the palm of one hand that remains flat, outstretched. With the other hand we pick up the inviter and wake up the bell. We wake up the bell to let others know a full sound is coming, so that they can come to a stop and enjoy it without being surprised. We breathe in and out once after the wake up sound and before making a full sound of the bell. The full sound should be strong and clear. If we mistakenly invite the bell too softly, we can invite a stronger sound straight away. Then we enjoy three in- and out-breaths. We place the bell down and bow. Invite all the children to try inviting the bell once.

The children really enjoy this and they are always incredibly quiet as they breathe three times in respect for each child’s sound of the bell. They often forget to wake up the bell, so you need to remind them. Sometime they are nervous and don’t invite it properly, just gently encourage them to try again. You can also ask them to share how they feel when they invite the bell.

Once they know how to invite the bell, you can ask the children to invite the bell whenever you begin and end sessions together. Remind them that they need to be calm and breathe in and out three times before they invite the bell. It helps to ask them to bring their hands from their lap up to their chest to indicate that they are breathing in and back down from chest to lap when they breathe out.

You can also encourage them to have a bell at home so that whenever the atmosphere in the family is tense, angry or carried away by forgetfulness, they can invite the bell and remind their parents and siblings to breathe. Many children do use the bell in this way at home.

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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.


New parents Fernanda and Leonardo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When I recently became a mother, I realized how intense love can be. Such love brought me a lot of happiness but also a lot of fear of one day losing this person. I thought “I can’t live without my son anymore.” Since this is beyond my control, I felt very insecure. In fact, terrified!  But then I remembered the Dharma and that the only time that we have to live is the present moment. The past has already gone and the future is not yet here to be enjoyed. So now, every time that I’m caught by a feeling like that regarding my son, I take refuge in the present moment, hold him in my arms, kiss him a lot and immediately I feel like the happiest person in the world!

Taking refuge in the present moment also helps me a lot during mornings when I’m exhausted and I have to wake up to change diapers and nurse the baby. Many times I think that I would prefer to be sleeping after a day of work instead of waking up to put my son to sleep. But when I remember that one day after many hours of work or during a business trip I’ll miss every moment with my kid, these moments with my son become very intense and very special. I feel happy because I’m there for my son.


I am learning that a new born baby is a wonderful help for my practice. It’s impressive that each sound or cry of the baby awakens me from forgetfulness and brings my attention to the present moment to see what is happening. I practiced a lot this way during these first 5 months. I also train my mindfulness when I carry him. I have to pay attention in each step, to each movement to keep him safe from accidents. It’s wonderful and so natural. My attention is at its maximum when I’m with him.

When I’m playing with him at 5:30 A.M. (that’s true!) before going to work, I always repeat, “My dear I’m here for you and I’m happy”. Even when I’m very tired at this time I practice being present to play with him. I want to touch the love seed in him; I want him to know that I love him giving him my full presence. And when I go to work I am happy, I feel light.

Thank you for the opportunity to share,


Precious Moments: Personal Stories of Practicing with Children

For those of us who have worked with children, we each have important moments that have changed our way of looking at and being with children. These moments stay with us for the rest of our lives. They make working with children meaningful and fulfilling. They teach us so much about ourselves, our perceptions, and our vulnerability.

Sometimes, we think that as staff or as an adult, we need to always be in control, calm, and seem like we know what we are doing. We think we should never let the children see that we are vulnerable or that we have lost our ‘authority’. However, sometimes miracles can happen, when we as adults reveal our truest feelings and weaknesses right in the midst of the present moment. We are true to ourselves, to what is happening and we let go of our ideas of how it should or should not be. We embrace the present moment and trust that the truth of the moment is okay as it is. When this true embrace and acceptance occurs in ones mind, something changes in the air, in the children, and in the collective.


One time, when I was giving the teachings on the pebble meditation to a room of 40 to 50 children, events did not occur as planned. The children were of mixed ages from toddlers to older teens. There was a group of 4-5 young ones who seemed disinterested in the sharing, and more interested in distracting me and dragging my attention towards them. I was close to each one of them, cared and played with them separately at other times when they would come on the weekends outside of special retreats. It was very hard for me because they as a group were interrupting me as soon as I shared. It affected the other kids and the collective energy was a little tense. Sweat formed on my forehead and everyone in the room including my monastic brothers and sisters knew we had a situation. They were waiting to see if someone or I could bring it back to calm and normalcy. Because I was close to them, I did not want my brother to remove them from the room, and there was a conflict inside of me. I felt betrayed by these young boys. They were letting me down and embarrassing me in front of everyone. I felt hurt and angry.

As I raised the pebble for the third time and said, “This first pebble represents a flower, our capacity of ‘freshness’ inside. The distraction hit is saturation point. With sweat still running down my face, I dropped my two arms, closed my eyes, and began to follow my breathing. I let go. It was beyond me. The room quieted and everyone was waiting for me to speak again. I felt the heat inside of me slowly cooling. I recognized my anger and my hurt. I said, “Breathing in, I am hurt. Breathing out, it is okay to be hurt.” My sister invited the bell. “Breathing in, I feel betrayed by the friends on my side. Breathing out, I smile to them with love and understanding.” I continued with this type of guided meditation for a while, with the point of recognizing my feelings and especially, of recognizing what was happening in the room. Everyone knew what was happening, but no one knew what to do or how to recognize it. When the situation was given respect and acknowledgement, something changed. In our teacher’s words, we called the situation by its ‘true name’. The boys were recognized. They got their attention from the group but they also got something else – the recognition that they were interrupting the group. I felt that they also recognized this, because their body movements began to change; they straightened up; they quieted down; they began to listen and pay attention to what was happening in the group.

That morning session turned out to be about dealing with our emotions and challenges, rather than about pebble meditation. We asked the children how they felt being in the room with other distracting kids and how they deal with themselves when they are annoyed or other emotions. It turned out to be an enriching experience for all of us.

Reflecting back now, I see that we should have foreseen the need to split the group into two and identify and dealt with the boys earlier. I also see that I had a notion about how that morning should have been. I was resisting what was happening in the present moment and forcefully trying to bring the situation to what I would like it to be. I also was not truthful and respectful of my feelings. Yes we could have asked the boys to leave the room and everything might have been okay as planned. We are familiar with this approach. Our parents used it all the time when we were kids. This experience was a gift for me because it revealed to me that what happens to my mind when I sincerely recognize and respect my present moment truly, as it is – whether that is sadness, anger, or other feelings – can happen to the group and to the collective mind.

Spontaneous Play

The idea here is to use what children already do naturally and help them to transform it in a positive way. These moments when children are playing with each other naturally and sometimes inappropriately are actually wonderful ‘teachable moments’.

Here are some examples of how this has manifested in Plum Village and Deer Park:

One day, some children in Deer Park were playing with sticks aggressively using these against each other, when some young monks walked by. They showed them how these sticks could be used as magic wands. The children were delighted with this new game & they were never reprimanded for what they were doing on their own. Simply, they were guided in transforming it into something positive. Violent sticks became magic wands with some skillful guidance & a little imagination.

Another situation occurred in Plum Village, when a retreatant noticed some children using a lot of profanity in the meditation hall. They were trying to top each other, with one child coming up with language even more offensive than his peer before him. Rather than scolding them, she commented something like this, “Well, you all are so creative with language! It’s amazing what you can do with words. Can you think of some really kind, complementary words to use with one another? Now, can you make these words even more sweet, more beautiful? Who can come up with the kindest phrases to use with another person?”

So, the children continued playing; now topping each other to see who could come up with the most beautiful words of kindness to use with another. Amazing transformation; isn’t it?

One way to think about how to handle these spontaneous, and often inappropriate situations and turn them into teachable moments is to recognize what the kids are already doing, validate it by commenting how creative or fun it looks, then guide it by suggesting an alternative which builds on what the kids are already doing. Then, let it transform as the kids get creative with this new game.

Some guidelines to help you remember when you’re in a situation like this:

Recognize it, Validate it, Guide it, allow it to transform.

White Moth Bodhisattva

One evening, when the children formed a circle in a room and we sang songs and danced, a white moth entered the circle and danced with us. She landed on the carpet beside me and I knelt down to say hello to her. Just as I said, “How wonderful children a beautiful white moth has joined us with her song,” a young boy moved forward quickly and stomped on the moth violently many times. A few other boys joined him. One girl yelled in horror for she could not take what had happen. Other children were in shock and my brothers and sisters embraced and consoled some of them. I picked up the dead moth and took it outside to return it back to the earth. I came back and the room was silent. I sat in the middle of the circle, closed my eyes, and followed my breathing for a few minutes. My sister invited the bell.

I began to pray for the moth and to express our regret for our unskillfulness. “Dear white moth, please forgive us for not recognizing your beauty, your gift to us, your sacrifice to our ignorance, our violence, and our unskillfulness. We pray that you are now in a peaceful place that your pain in leaving us was not too great. We are in pain now for what had occurred. You came to us to share your wonder, your dance, and your love for the children. Yet we could not see. We were blind by our excitement, our habit of killing small living beings, and our inability to care all beings. No one person is to blame for this act, for it is all our act. We promise to do better next time. We promise to respect life in all its form – plants and animals, even small bugs and insects. We promise not to kill and let our violent energy take over us and destroy what is beautiful and good in this world.”


What touched me the most in my experience of the Children’s Program was something very simple. It was friendship. I am 20 years old and I know I am quite different from the children. But when we can connect at the same level I find it most beautiful. Usually they are very shy or indifferent to me at the beginning, but after a while, they speak to me like a friend, they have trust in me. Every time this happens I become very moved to have trust from this very pure source. I cherish it a lot. I don’t want to have expectations of the children. I love their spontaneity. Just to create friendship with them is enough for me. In this way they can remember and have warm feelings of Plum Village, of the monastics here.

I remember a specific moment with a young boy who was very closed towards the other children. He thought he was too good for the others, like he was too mature. By the end of that day we became very close and he played as a child with the other children. He shared with me from his heart. For me, I feel that children are very sensitive, they can easily feel when we are trying to teach them something. It works better for me to help them by speaking to them as a friend and sharing from my experience.

The Hug

James was a young boy of seven. He had two close friends called Paul and Eve, seven and eight, and the three of them were close knitted. It was the first week of the summer retreat in Maple Forest and altogether there were seven children between the ages of 6 to 12. They were the youngest members, the other four were girls, and there was a clear distinction between their characters. Whatever activity the children were meant to have, the girls listened to me and the communication between us was clear. Perhaps it was partly because they were girls and the connection between us was natural. But James, Eve, and Paul were harder to get through to. They rebelled, not so loudly because they didn’t scream and shout, but there was silent rebellion, unresponsive to my ideas and suggestions. They kept themselves closed to us and opened only to each other. It was my first time working alone with children so I felt at a loss. In the past I had always been with at least one other, whether a brother or a sister, and so the children had complementary staff taking care of them. But those times we were offering just a half day of activities, a once a month Children’s Day at Green Mountain Dharma Center. For the first time I was by myself working with children for a week long. Whatever I asked the children to do James and the other two didn’t want to do. If the children and I went for a walk, James and his friends ran from us, playing their own games. If we were inside the Children’s room doing some art and craft the three of them would be outside running round and round the building. If we were skit-playing, they were playing something else. And so the days of that week passed like this.

I wasn’t quite sure what was best to do at that time, though one thing I felt certain of and that was I wasn’t going to force them to do anything. If at times I felt a little frustrated I wouldn’t shout or be bad tempered towards them. I would leave space open for them so that they would know that whenever they wanted they could join in with the group.

On the last evening of that week we had a Rose for Your Pocket ceremony. At the end of the ceremony James mother, with James a little behind her, came up and asked me if James could give me a hug. I was more than surprised. Could it be the same James who hardly appeared to be listening to me throughout the entire week? He looked shy as he approached me and so vulnerable, not like the leader-of-the-pack James that he had been. I felt a deep warm happiness as I embraced him, though conscious not to embrace him too close or too tight. After three breaths James continued to hold onto me. His hug became tighter, he wouldn’t let go. I felt so moved. That was when I realised that James had taken in everything that had happened in the past week. He had sensed everything and received everything. It wasn’t the activities we did, nor any practices taught; what James received was acceptance in our attitude towards him and his friends. It is how we are and the way we are with the children that is imprinted into their hearts.

Hanging out with kids

There are no rules, no method except perhaps a sense of awe, of intense curiosity to be with life in the moment with the child. As if you were about to go on a journey to a place you have never been before with all your attention, all your energy in a state of alertness ever ready to explore. This naturally will require a great deal of energy and to meet it, it is advisable that you get plenty of rest the day before. As with any travel, perhaps you will find yourself seeking what you have known before – something familiar. Perhaps you said to yourself that you need a package tour of the city; acknowledge that thought and let it be a ‘no agenda’ day to visit the city. Let the city show itself to you!

Is this what it means to ‘hang out’ with someone, to be with that child? Is it not to let that child reveal to you who they are, the way they dream, how they talk, their voice, how they move about, what they want to play, their smile, their face with all its expressions, just their total being? Is it not to be open to accept what is being offered and improvise along with it, so as to be playful, yet caring so that no harm is done to anyone?

Let it be a moveable meditation, while staying with all the life that comes up within yourself and especially around you, with the children receiving all your focus and attention.

Another Story-telling Incident

With a group of 6 year olds, I begin a story. One child sort of makes singing noises…this goes on a while. I stop speaking…he “sings” on a little – I ask him gently “Is it okay if I continue with the story?” He has a rather strange non-reply, I continue the story and he continues this “songlike” speaking. Suddenly I find myself adapting to his voice and letting his voice guide mine. The story takes on colours and emotion I had never felt before. We are all entranced. The young boy continues like this for over one hour of stories. The teachers are fascinated. I later learned that this boy is autistic and has never listened to any performance for more than 10 minutes. I still thank him silently for the lesson he taught me that day.

At Plum Village – learning from children

One summer evening, the parents and adults had gone off to some activity or another, but it wasn’t clear at all which children were with us. I began to panic thinking “we are responsible for these children!” They were running off in all directions and I panicked even more – the young Sisters present looked at me helplessly. I decided to only return to my mindful breathing and within five minutes the children all clustered around and we were together again!

Ideas for Nature Walks:

  • A picnic walk (everyone carries a small part of the final picnic).
  • Visit a local, organic farm.
  • On a hike: take care of your Second Body/Buddy. Include regular energy “checks” (Is your heart beating fast? Then, rest.)
  • Storytelling Walk.  Maybe a Guest Storyteller stops regularly to tell the story in sections.  Or one long stop to tell the whole story.  Or the kids tell stories they’ve prepared.
  • Collecting Walks.  Walk and collect special things from nature for the Nature Table, for a Poster, for Card Making or Stone Painting.
  • Partner walk.  One person leads the other who has their eyes shut, then switch who leads and who is being lead. (Have them pay attention to light and shadow, and awareness of directions, up and downhill, etc.)
  • All standing still, shut your eyes and open your ears. What do you hear? Later, reproduce the sounds heard.  Cars going by, cow, cock crow, bees, birds, voices, wind, etc.
  • Eyes shut, a partner leads you to touch a natural object. Explore it with eyes closed.
  • Walk barefoot and pay attention to the soles of your feet and their contact with the earth. This is a fun way to introduce walking meditation.
  • Cloud Meditation: Lie back on Earth and look at clouds.  Use your imagination.  Be inventive, imagine characters, stories.
  • Nature Mandalas:  Go for a walk, sit down and children practice making a mandala or any design using the natural objects around them: rocks, leaves, flowers, grass, dirt.  Take a Gallery Walk when children visit each other’s work of art. Or hold an exhibition with a non-competitive spirit so that all teams/ kids win.
  • Roll down a hill!
  • Observe a pond, then say, write, draw your observations.
  • Tell Nature Stories (trees, bees, birds, animals)
  • Make presentations on endangered species, birds, migrations, the sea, stars, nature.  This can be done by visiting specialists in the community, by a video or by interested kids themselves.

Special Trees

Take a nature walk, look at all the trees in the area. Each child looks for a tree which is special to him or her.

  • Children choose their “special tree”. They can introduce themselves to the tree and tell the tree some special qualities about themselves. Then, they can tell the tree what special qualities they can recognize in this tree. Practice really listening to this tree and try to hear if this tree had a name, what would it be called? Looking deeply at this tree, seeing all its wonderful qualities, the child can then give the tree a name.
  • Practice introducing a friend to this tree. Tell all the good qualities of the tree first and why you like it. Save the name as a surprise for later.
  • After listening to their tree, children write/draw their tree’s message to the world and share it with the group.
  • Children all sit at the base of their trees, listen to messages from their tree and from the stones, insects, moss, bark & leaves in the environs. Write this message on a piece of paper or draw the meaning of the message. Then: mail delivery time! Run to deliver this message to a friend’s tree.
  • Tree lemonade meditation – maybe with a buddy (second body). Enjoy sitting at the base of each other’s special tree. Tell tree stories at the foot of their tree or together in the bamboo thicket.
  • Pretend to become a tree. Enact getting planted as a seed, slowly sprouting up and unfolding branches. Then growing blossoms and leaves, and perhaps losing leaves in the autumn. Show what happens in a storm: with strong roots (live through the storm) and without strong roots (may get knocked down). Here we can also talk about how we as people also need to have strong roots-in our ancestors-in order to survive our life’s storms.
  • Practice tree pose as in yoga. Stand upright on one foot only, the other foot rests on the inside of the standing leg, hands can come together at the heart or with good balance above the head. Notice the difference when you root your foot into the ground (even if you only imagine it). Notice what happens when you fix your eyes on a single point in front of you and concentrate. What happens when you focus on your breath or on your abdomen? When do you have the “best” balance?
  • Sing “Standing Like a Tree” song. Encourage the children to take refuge in their tree whenever they need it and to visit it every day. It is a safe place, a place where they can just be, relax, and come back to themselves.

* Collective Project

Make tree cards (drawn or using objects from nature) of all the types of trees in the area. Find out the name and country of origin. Kids can get together and share the information they learned

Seeing Nature’s beauty in us:

protectingTake the children to a place outside and ask them to look around and see what in the natural surroundings they are attracted to, that they find beautiful. Ask them to choose one thing in their environment, whether it’s a tree, a pinecone, a mountain, a cloud, an animal, another person, or a breeze, that they love or appreciate.

Give them all a small piece of paper and pen/pencil. Invite them to write down: “I love ______ (the part of nature they have chosen) because ….” OR “______ (the part of nature they have chosen) is beautiful because ….” And they just need to write one or two sentences, something very simple. (For example, “I love the cypress tree because it is strong, fragrant, proud and at ease with itself.”)

Once they have written their sentences, ask them to turn over their paper and write the same exact sentence except they substitute themselves for the part of nature that they chose. (So, “I love myself because I am strong, fragrant, proud and at ease with myself.”)

Then they can reflect on how it feels to recognize in themselves the same qualities they appreciate in nature. It can become a good discussion/reflection on interbeing and our oneness with our environment, too.

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

We shared this activity with the children in Deer Park’s family retreat in 2007. Sr. Susan and Br. Phap Dung led their group outside and asked the children to observe something beautiful in nature and to write a sentence describing that beauty. Then they had to write the same sentence, using the same words, but substituting themselves for the scene or object they had just written about. Sr. Susan helped the children with the second part of the exercise. The exercise is taken from Michael Cohen’s work and helps us to see that all the beauty we see around us is also the beauty within us. Only some of the poems had names on them, and we indicated them, and we are so grateful to all the children for sharing their beauty with us.

I love myself because:

I am so beautiful.

I offer comfort to others, friendliness to others, and my beauty is just me.


I love myself because:

I love the way I reach for the sky.

I love the way I hold my heart in welcome to the sun.


I love myself because:

I am me.

I am a friend of other people, hoping you’ll be my friend.


I love myself because:

I offer love and nourishment and good food to others.

I love myself because:

I am so COOL!

I love myself because:

I am right here now very present.

I am good at thinking of deep truth.

I am good at reaching out to others people and sometimes I am sharp too.


I love myself because:

I am very bright like the sun.

I am so beautiful.

I have gentleness and offer gentleness to others.

I am so beautiful.


I love myself because:

Of the sound of my voice,

and the way I look so beautiful in my brightness.

When I move, I am so wonderful.

I make others happy.


I like myself because:

I make people feel calm, comfortable(like a shady tree).

I make people feel cheerful and not alone.

I make people feel that anything is possible.

I am full of peace, gentleness and peacefulness like a gentle sleep.


I love myself because:

I can be cool laying down or standing up.

I am happy to be a teenager soon and to be a boy so dignified looking.


I love myself because:

I have brightness like the sun.

I give comfort like shade.

I give cooling happiness like breeze and I have beauty.


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


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