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.

Liana

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.

Patrick

I love myself because:

I am me.

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

Ben

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.

Sarah

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.

Wow!

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.

Micah

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.

Megan

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.

Jasper

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.

Katlyn

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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