This special guest post comes to us from Judy Fleischman, BCC M.S. M.Phil., Live Change Coach and Om School Learning Guest Teacher. We’re so blessed to have Judy on board as our in-house mindful eating teacher and intergalactic expedition leader…
On a sunny day with Spring in full swing, I join a group of adventurous OMsters (students at Om School Mindfulness Cooperative), ages 6-10. We converge from all directions at a small farm in Sebastopol, a town in Sonoma county, CA. OMsters arrive on the scene in the company of fellow travelers, affectionately known as their parents and extended family. This is fertile ground to enter into a bold venture of galactic proportions. Only a few hours north of the lively metropolis of San Francisco, this farm is the perfect launching spot for our Space bioneers. The open field, advanced technology, and can-do spirit of local residents support our lively endeavor.
Silently, making our way to a spaceship in the shape of a yurt, we gather in a circle and sit down. The round, tent-like structure first designed in Mongolia proves perfect for our purposes. The sun shines through and warms up inner space as we prepare to head into outer space.
Expedition guides Chelsea True, founder of Om School Learning, and myself greet everyone. Then, yours truly invites everyone to breathe in and listen to what inner space is saying. In this way, we set an intention for today’s shared journey. Those who want to name their intention and we discover a lot of overlap including: have fun, discover something new, and make a difference. Now, I encourage the bioneers to imagine that with each outbreath, we are powering the spaceship. We breathe together silently for a few minutes.
Next, I tell them that we are traveling through space and soon landing on a new planet. Neighbors say it is called Earth. Our crew of bioneers prepares to head out, accompanied by Chelsea and myself, photographer OMmom Karyl Averill, and a few assistants. We thank the rest of our crew for remaining on board to take care of the ship.
We line up, wash our hands, and set out with supplies to gather whatever might be edible here. We enjoy a big breath in, celebrating being able to breathe freely on this wondrously green planet. We look around to inspect local plant life. Standing beneath a small tree with fresh green leaves, I ask, “anyone know what kind of tree this is?” Five or so voices shout in unison, “apple!” Amazed, I ask, “how can you tell?” Without hesitation, they shout out delightedly, “the leaves!” Being a city girl by nature, I hear myself say with genuine surprise, “no kiddin?” The group of kids laugh and move on to explore for eats.
Three girls re-discover the fine art of foraging on local bushes. Others notice a tall tree with red fruit… cherries! Soon enough, Chelsea lays a big blanket on the green grass and some baskets. Inside are the makings for a tasty picnic. Bright orange tangerines peek out from one basket. Another contains three bowls. One holds a sticky paste made from chopped dates. One holds chopped pecans. A third holds flaked coconut. Fast forward on how those got there. That’s a story for another time…
We sit in a circle on the blanket and tell each other what we have discovered. When several youngsters speak at once, one girl pulls out a small stick made from a locally growing tree branch. It is decorated simply and colorfully. She says it is a “talking stick” and suggests that we use at as Natives to this planet (and local region) have been (according to legend and local records). I smile with delight as she offers basic guidelines. We pass the stick around and whoever holds it, speaks while everyone else listens *(for more info, see Zen Peacemaker guidelines for “Council Practice” and Mindful Peacebuilding’s and Order of Interbeing’s “Deep Listening..” sharing circle practice).
I remind each of us that we can listen with our whole body, noticing sounds and feelings and sensations. We can listen as if giving a gift each time the stick is passed from one person to another. We all like the suggestion. We pass it and each bioneer offers impressions of being on this new world. We speak of foraging while exploring with fresh eyes, bringing all our senses to experience in a fresh way this seemingly familiar world.
“Good time for a new song!” I hear myself think and so, suggest this. I say there is this new song about waking up to who we really are, sometimes called “enlightenment.” It is written by a fellow mindful adventurer, Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat. As we learn the words, I invite each bioneer to come up with a hand gesture for each line of the song. Then, we all agree to follow along, call/response style, in repeating this as we sing. Our creativity brings the song to life. By the time we get to the chorus, we’re in the groove, singing, “Everything is enlightened, everything great and small…”
All this foraging and talking and singing makes us hungry. Chelsea brings over the three bowls of lively ingredients. I invite each kid to assemble a date-nut ball using the ingredients at hand. I tell them that while the shape and ingredients are similar, to feel free to play within the guidelines. Our plan is not too big and not too small. In other words, just enough to munch on in a few bites.
Happy to dig in, our lively crew sets to task. We laugh as hands get sticky and play with shapes and textures. More nuts, less coconut?… The possibilities are endless. Soon enough, we fill a wooden tray with a whole bunch of lovely, round treats to share.
We place the tray in the center of the circle. I invite each youngster to choose one treat and hold it in the palm of their hand. Since hands are quite sticky now, this requires attentiveness and care. I say, “now imagine that we are not sure if what we just picked up is edible. We are exploring it with our whole body, all our senses. What might you do next?”
Everyone agrees that our ability to see and smell and taste is crucial for this exploration. I introduce, “Mindful Eating” and discover that they are familiar with different ways to be “mindful” (naturally, being OMsters). We remind each other about paying attention while being kind to ourselves and one another. One way to do this, I explain, is to ask, “who’s hungry in there?” I say a little about the six hungers” (eye, mouth, stomach, mind, heart, and cellular)* (see Dr. Jan Chozen Bays book, Mindful Eating) and how to check in with each one. Then, we take turns rating eye and mouth hunger (on a scale of 0 to 10).
Just as we begin to rate stomach hunger, a loud stomach growl sounds. That’s our cue to move right along. I encourage, “OK, now put it in your mouth and if you can, just let it sit there without chewing for a moment.” Our eager eaters are challenged by this yet able to try it out. I invite them to notice what’s happening. Slowly, we begin chewing while paying close attention to what the tongue is doing. “Is it moving the food to the front or back of the mouth?” I ask, One bioneer calls it, “The back!”
“Why do you suppose it does that?” I ask. “To get it down the throat…” says one, “and to the stomach,” says another. Then, I remark, “There is no right or wrong answer to this. Just explore. When does this thing you are chewing become what you call you? Part of your body? Or could also say IS your body?” They like that challenge. Silently, we munch for a few seconds as everyone focuses attention on the process of eating. Then, one kid calls out, “now!” I laugh and notice am not alone in laughter.
I say, “Hey! This could be a great time to sing our new enlightenment song!” Our bioneers are somewhat distracted as they lick their fingers delightedly. Even so, by the time the chorus rolls around, we sculpt the air in a circular gesture of hands reaching towards ourselves and then extending outwards. We sing in unison, “Everything is enlightened, everything great and small…”
Just then, as our photographer records happy hands and happy faces, we notice our shipmates approaching. We offer them some live treats. They are amazed by these gems from the new world and delighted to savor them by munching mindfully.
Joyfully together, we agree that this planet is a wonderful place we now call home.
Judy Seicho Fleischman is a Board-Certified Chaplain (and founder of Open Source Chaplaincy Care) and Live Change Coach. She also is caretaker of the playground of caring community, SensingWonder.com. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physics (M.I.T.), Master’s degrees in Physics (U.Mass. Amherst) and Astronomy (Columbia University).
Om School Mindfulness Cooperative founder Chelsea True and all its members, to Zen teachers Jan Chozen Bays, Enkyo O’Hara, Thich Nhat Hahn, Lyn Fine, Mel Sojun Weitsman, Alan Senauke, Laurie Senauke, Norman Fischer, and Chris Fortin. Singout also to Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat for his new spin of a song celebrating waking up to our interdependence, and to Monique Camp at Sophia’s Garden.
Council Practice Guidelines, Zen Peacemaker Family
Dharma Sharing Circle Guidelines, Order of Interbeing
Kidzendo, Berkeley Zen Center
Kindness Filling Station by Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat
Mindful Eating: Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.
Mindful Eating with Live Foods by Judy Fleischman
Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer
You can learn more about Judy and read her original post at her website, Live Change Coaching.