Category Archives: Mindfulness Practices

Stillness Stones, Mountain Bodies

The Joyful Mind Kids have spent the last two weeks practicing with Mindful Bodies.  This is the first lesson in the Mindful Schools curriculum and an essential aspect of practice.  A mindful body is a body that is aware — it’s the safe place we can come home to in each moment.

Wet-felted stones.  A reminder to practice mindful bodies.
Wet-felted Stillness Stones.  A reminder to practice mindful bodies.

I like using stones to introduce mindful bodies.  With my kids age ten and under, I tell a story about a mountain and call mindful bodies, Mountain Bodies.  Homework for this first class is to find a round, smooth stone that fits in the palm of your hand and bring it to class the following week.

We call these Stillness Stones and they represent the solidity and refuge of own body.  Sitting with the weight of the stone in our hands, using that touch point as an anchor, is very grounding.  Last week, kids reported feeling calm, happy, and still.

This week, kids enjoyed wet-felting their stones.  This is a great sensory play activity — warm soapy water, soft wool, bubbles — much to be mindful of.

For more on mindfulness with stones, check out Thich Nhat Hanh’s pebble meditation.

A practice verse to use with this lesson is:

Body like the mountain.
Heart like the ocean.
Mind like the sky.

We use this verse by Dogen as a call and response to close the each Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm.  The pictorial images resonate with the children and remind us that the capacity for being as solid as a mountain or spacious as they sky is always with us.

Tornado of Thoughts, Thundering Silence

mind jar M
Awareness of Thoughts with Mind Jars

Last week, the kids at Om School learned about mindfulness of thoughts.  Our elementary age kids enjoyed a visit from Mindful Schools graduate, Emily Weiner.  Emily shared some great games illustrating how thoughts run from past, to present, to future, and pop up like popcorn.

Our little ones, ages 3-7, discovered the thundering quality of silence through play-based learning, enacting the noisiness of our busy lives, then dropping into silence and noting the difference.  Both classes had fun making Mind Jars.

If you haven’t seen these before, they’re a great teaching tool.  The sparkles represent our thoughts.  As thoughts are a little abstract for children under four,  with our littlest ones, we let the sparkles represent the busy feeling we get inside when rushing through our day.  Our mindful breathing  helps the swirling, whirling, tornado of busyness settle down.

Two excellent short films illustrate this practice.   Both films were created by participants in the Mindful Schools year-long certification training I’m now working to complete.  I hope you’ll enjoy watching and feel inspired to share.  With stress impacting children as young as six years old, perhaps it is time we all discovered the thundering quality of silence.

 

Gratitude Resources

grateful kidsThis month at Om School, our mindfulness practice is GRATITUDE…

Each night at bedtime, children are bringing to mind someone or something for which they are grateful.  Their practice is to see this someone or something as a jewel — to hold that jewel for 20 seconds… and then place it into the treasure chest of the heart.  Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of, The Buddha’s Brain, writes about this process of hard-wiring happiness in our children here.

A great body of research on gratitude has emerged in recent years and tells us that cultivating gratitude can strengthen immune systems, lower blood pressure, increase positive emotions, increase generosity and compassion, and decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Greater Good Science Center has launched a $5.6 million, three-year project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.  Their website is packed with great resources including these great tips for cultivating gratitude.

For more on the role that parents can play in fostering the development of children’s gratitude, check out this this video with Dr. Andrea Hussong.  And in, Making Grateful Kids,  Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono explain how to foster gratitude in children, drawing on new research and compelling real-life stories.

Have a favorite book about gratitude?  Please share it here!  We’d love to hear about it!

Gratitude in Novemeber

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Gratitude at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, November 2014

This month at Om School, our mindfulness practice is cultivating GRATITUDE.

We began the month with the Youth & Family Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Children shared a gratitude circle — each naming one thing for which they are grateful.  We chanted The Three Lamps, offered incense, and sang, In Gratitude, a song from Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Center.

In our Wednesday class, older children made a clay model of the brain and began a three-week research project into the science of gratitude.  We’re experimenting to see if cultivating gratitude increases happiness.

All of the Om School kids received a thankful tree  for recording the things for which they are grateful.  Their practice this month is:  each night at bed time, take a moment to bring to mind someone or something for which you are grateful.  This is a jewel.  Hold on to this jewel for 20 seconds… then put your jewel into the treasure chest of your heart.

Dr.  Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, explains this practice here.

Stay tuned for more resources on the science of gratitude!  Enjoy your practice this month, everybody!  In gratitude!

Deepening Halloween

Returning to Halloween’s ancient roots this week at, we honored our ancestors with a special ceremony…

We invited in all of the beings who have left this world — grandparents, beloved pets, and even spiders… then offered gifts of food, sang songs, an created a memory table with photos, names, and items that belonged to our beloved, departed ones.

This was the last week in October’s lesson block on impermanence.  Next week, we’ll begin November’s practice of cultivating gratitude.

 

Impermanence in October

pumpkin-patch-1All month, the kids at Om School have been discovering that impermanence makes everything possible.

We’ve noticed that our emotions come and go like clouds in the sky, felt the energy in our bodies moving with Qigong, and observed changes on the farm as apples fall from trees and plants are harvested.  We’ve discovered that our bodies are changing, that sounds come and go from our experience, and even built a new compost pile — a very living lesson in how the passing of one thing is the birth of another.  It seems that nothing at all is permanent.  Everything is constantly becoming.

This week we’ll conclude our look at impermanence with an ancestor’s ritual… 

We’ll use elements from a traditional Japanese Zen Buddhist ceremony for the spirits of departed ones — called sejiki.  All Om School families are invited to attend this deepening of Halloween and return to its ancient roots.

Dear Om School families:  Please remember to bring photos and items that belonged to a loved one who has passed away — friend, family, or animal.  We’ll even honor the the bugs and spiders who have departed this world by drawing pictures of them to add to our memory table.  Whimsical and non-scary costumes are welcome.  If you believe this will be a sensitive subject for your child, please let me know in advance.

Attuning to Generosity

We’re exploring what it means to be GENEROUS this month…

hands child flowerAugust 1st marks the half-way point to fall.  It’s that time of year when the earth begins to share her treasures.   Where we live, the apples are growing red and fat, green grapes are ripening to purple, pears are making branches heavy… Everything is in an outward gesture.

Looking around this time of year, we see that the earth is a great teacher of this heart-quality, generosity.   But why should we cultivate this quality?  What’s in it for us?!

Here’s what one wise teacher has to say about it:

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression.
We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous.
We experience joy in the actual act of giving something.
And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.” – The Buddha

So it seems that by giving, we are also receiving.   When we cultivate the understanding that we already have enough, the stingy, clinging mind releases.  The sensation of scarcity melts into abundance.   We experience happiness.

We’ll be sharing generosity practice with the children at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center tomorrow.  As I imagine speaking to those big-eyed angels, I keep seeing this gesture of hands opening — of offering.   Just moving our hands like this — first holding them close to our chest, then opening them wide from the heart —  brings a sensation of our heart opening.  It feels good.  It’s freeing.  Like sharing our only cookie with a friend.

These open hands are also the gesture of letting go.  Of releasing.  Of non-attachment.  And when we let go of what we’ve hardened around, of what we expect, of our ideas of right and wrong, we do experience a great joy.   Look closely at the word “forGIVE.”  Maybe forgiveness is an act of generosity we give to ourselves.

Vinny Ferraro, one of my teachers in the Mindful Schools year-long certification training, gives a beautiful talk in generosity here.   Vinny says, “The path begins with generosity because of the joy and unhindered delight that flows freely there… We can see generosity all around us if we attune our eyes to it.   It’s in so many of our moments.”

I hope you’ll join us in attuning to generosity this month.  Step outside and see the generous, open sky… breathe in the gift of the trees, feel the life-giving warmth of sun on your face.   Every moment offers itself to us freely and generously.  All we have to do is notice.

The Children's Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center meets the first Sunday of the month -- outside the zendo at 10am.  For more information, visit the the website or click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

 

 

Expedition OM-MEBA: A Mindful Eating Bioneers Adventure

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…

1On 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.

2Three 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…

3We 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…”

4All 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.
OMSchool_OMEBA5.jpg

5We 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).

6Just 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.

8I 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…”

9Just 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.

**********************************************

10Judy 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).

Thanks to:
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.

Resources:

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.

The Sun My Heart

the solstice sun | contemplative handwork using up-cycled and natural materials

We had the great pleasure of offering a workshop at the Festival of Conscious Parenting last Sunday.  This conference was a wonderful convergence of many teachers, community leaders, and families committed to creating mindful and non-violent environments for children.

Because the summer solstice was also last weekend, Om School’s offering centered on the life-giving energy of the sun — and how the sun is really our second heart, the great heart outside of our body.

What follows is the prepared text of the talk I shared.

Hello friends and families,

How is everyone today?  I hope you are well and remembering to smile at the blue sky.  My name is Chelsea True and I am the founding instructor at Om School Learning.  Om School offers contemplative community programs and services to families and children in Sebastopol.  All of our programs are held at Sophia’s Garden — a biodynamic farm and medicinal herb garden.  It’s a lovely space and I hope you’ll come out and join us this fall.

So what do we do there?  Well, we come together each week to learn mindfulness — to practice holding the world in kindness by paying attention in a special way.  We do this with storytelling, songs, games, and handwork with natural materials.  And we’re going to share a contemplative handwork project here today.  This is a special way to train our attention to hold the world in kindness… and to shine the light of our awareness on the whole world for the whole world.

But before we get started with that, I want to talk more about this, “shining the light of our awareness…”

Does anyone know what we’re celebrating this weekend?  Yes, many fun things here at the festival — and I hope you’ll enjoy all of the joyful offerings.

The thing I’d like to celebrate with you all today is the summer solstice.  Yesterday and today are the longest days of the year with the sun right here giving us its gifts.  One of my teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, has this to say about the sun:

“The sun is our second heart, our heart outside of our body. It gives all life on Earth the warmth necessary for existence. Plants live thanks to the sun. Their leaves absorb the sun’s energy, along with carbon dioxide from the air, to produce food for the tree, the flower, the plankton. And thanks to plants, we and other animals can live. All of us—people, animals, plants, and minerals—”consume” the sun, directly and indirectly. We cannot begin to describe all the effects of the sun, that great heart outside of our body.

When we look at green vegetables, we can see that it is the sun that is green and not just the vegetables. The green color in the leaves of the vegetables is due to the presence of the sun.”

The same is true for these flowers and oranges.  These oranges are the sun.  These flowers are your heart.  Seeing this way, we’re able to understand that the earth is our body and the trees are our breath — our lungs.  The water in the oceans and little rivers is not separate from the blood in our veins.  And when we feel that warm sun our cheeks — well how does it feel?  I think it feels like a mother’s love.  Soft and warm, radiating towards us, falling on everything equally, inclusive and undiscriminating.   In an ancient language, this kind of warm, radiating love is called, “metta,” or loving-kindness.

We can generate this kind of tender love, the warm love a mother has for her child, on purpose — with special phrases, wishes that we send out to the world.  We begin with sending this warm, sunlight to ourselves.  Let’s do that now.

Imagine someone you love — someone you see regularly.  Maybe your mom or dad, your dog or cat or horse.  Someone who loves you and takes good care of you.  Now close your eyes and imagine them very close to you.  See the warmth of their heart shine into yours.  Feel the sunbeams of their love shining to you.  Now let’s say the phrases.  Amelie, who is an Om School student, will help us.  Let’s repeat after Amelie:

May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be peaceful

Now we can radiate that warm, soft sunlight of loving-kindness right back to the person we’re imagining.  Picture the love shining from your heart, warming them with gentle loving-kindness.  Now let’s say the phrases for them.  Emma, who is also an Om School student, is going to help us.  Let’s repeat after Emma:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful

And we don’t have to stop there.  The sun shines on the whole world.  Let’s send that loving-kindness to all beings, even to the sun — to thank the sun for all of the gifts it gives us.  Liam and Tonia, who also practice mindfulness with Om School, will help us.  Let’s repeat after Liam and Tonia:

May all beings be happy
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be peaceful

Can you feel it?  I think we’re warming up the world.  And if you don’t feel it, that’s okay too.  We’re planting seeds and we can trust that they will grow.

I trust that the sun is your heart — and mine too.  Without the sun, no living being could survive. Without sun, there would be no you, no me.  So everything we know, even these oranges are the coming-together of many conditions near and far.  Here in one orange is the sun, the rain, the earth, the farmer who cared for the soil, the tools used to work the farm, the sky from which the rain fell, the parents who gave birth to the farmer.  In fact, this sun-ripe orange is the body of the entire cosmos… made up completely of non-orange elements —sunshine, rivers, and consciousness — and without any of these, the orange cannot be.

We can learn a lot from an orange.

Walt Whitman said, “I believe a blade of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars….” He also said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”  The sun is our heart, yes?  John Muir said, “When one tugs a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

These are meditations on our interbeing — on how all things are intricately interwoven.  So, with that, let’s weave together a solstice sun.  Let’s honor the sun, that great heart outside our body, with an enormous weaving project — and create a big, yellow sun with up-cycled fabrics, wool roving, and other natural materials.

And for the parents– what makes this a contemplative project?  Many things.  We’ve just heard how the sun is our heart, so now we have a chance to deepen and embody this understanding through the experience of using our hands.  But that’s not all.  Some of you may have done a project like this in the past.  Today we’re going to do it differently.  Instead of just weaving the fabric around the branches, we’re going to repeat the loving-kindness verses as we weave.  With each verse, our hands will make a coordinating movement.  So, it’s, “May I be happy…” as we wrap the fabric around the frame.

In doing so, we are weaving our loving-kindness right into this sun — so it can shine on everyone.  We’re also training our attention to be right here in the present moment, where our lives take place… and not caught in worry or planning.  And this present moment, under the warm, solstice sun, is a pretty nice place to be.

Thank you, everybody.

Now let’s turn to some of the Om School kids to get us started.  And if you’re not an Om School kid, but you’d like to help, please come on up.  It’s going to take a lot of little hands to weave the entire sun.

This talk was inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Sun My Heart and references an article of the same title by Thich Nhat Hanh, published in the Engaged Buddhist Reader, ed. Arnold Kotler (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1966)

Mindful Fox Listens Deeply

Last week, Om School’s Pre-K class learned to listen with Fox Ears.  We heard the story of Mindful Fox who listens so deeply to the sounds of the world that she can hear mice beneath the surface of the snow and, in summer,  can even hear the sound of grapes growing.

Despite her name, Mindful Fox is only mindful some of the time.  She’s cunning and clever, yes, but sometimes she forgets her mindfulness.  And on this particular spring morning, a little flower fairy caught her eye and off she ran.  Before Fox knew it, she was lost.  Thank goodness she remembered her mindful listening.

By opening her ears and listening with her whole body, she recognized the sounds of home — her little kit brothers and sisters, the hens of the nearby farm, and the sounds of the farmer’s children at play.  By listening deeply, Mindful Fox found her way home.

405After the story, we took a “listening walk” around the farm discovering sounds — bees, wind, water, and hens.  Then we made glittery fox masks to remind us to practice listening with Fox Ears at home.

To listen like Fox,  it helps to put on our Mountain Bodies — our quiet, mindful bodies.  We can be mountains sitting, standing, walking, or lying down.  Being mountains means being aware of our bodies.  Then we open our Fox Ears.  This means that we listen all the way into our heart and tummy.

Mindful listening is an exercise in training our attention.  It’s also more than that, though.  Through listening deeply we can help relieve suffering in ourselves, in one another, and in the world.  When we listen to someone with the single purpose of allowing them to empty themselves completely, we create a space for compassion to grow.

To learn more about deep listening, check out this short interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.