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.

Fernanda

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,

Leonardo

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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.

Betrayed

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.”

Reflections

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!

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