Category Archives: Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness of Thoughts

butterfly thoughts

Today at Om School, children will practice mindfulness of thoughts.  We’ve had this lesson before and noticed how our thoughts are like butterflies — constantly fluttering about in the garden.  The kids were quite surprised to discover the constant flow of images in their own minds.

This is as far as we got with this lesson last time — just noticing the parade of pictures streaming through our minds.  Then children made these very sweet wool-roving butterflies to represent their thoughts.

Today we will venture a step further into this practice.   I’ve asked all of the kids to bring a puppy photo, picture from a book, or even a stuffed animal puppy.  We’ll explore the nature of puppies and discover that, as delightful as puppies are, without a little training and encouragement,  they tend to run about and get themselves into trouble.

Thoughts have a similar nature.

To begin training our Puppy-Minds, we’ll put on our Mountain Bodies, open our Fox Ears,  bring our attention to our Ocean Breathing — and notice how our minds are like puppies… quickly running off!   We’ll try using a verse like, “Come home, puppy!” to bring our attention back to our breath.  Then we’ll illustrate this exercise in our Mindful Schools workbooks.

For parents wondering about the relevance of this exercise,  Shambala Sun has a great article here.   When we pay attention to our thoughts with a gentle curiosity, we can move away from allowing thoughts to unconsciously direct our lives.

For more about Puppy-Mind practice, check out this article at Mindfulness for Students UK.

Modeling Beginner’s Mind

3-7-14 361We had rain for our March Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center,  so we kept dry inside working with clay and a story.

In, The Two Teacher’s and Tea,  a university professor comes to see the Zen teacher, Nan-in.  While waiting for tea to be served, the professor starts into one of his lectures.  He talks on and on… and on… and on.

When the tea finally arrives, Nan-in pours… and pours… and pours.  The professor’s cup overflows right into his lap.  “Just like this cup, sir, you are also too full… please first empty your own cup, then we can learn something together.”

How easy it is to be like the professor — so full of our own ideas that nothing new gets in… so quick to press forward that we may not actually see what is before us.   As Nan-in tells us, it is better to cultivate a beginner’s mind — an attitude of openness and curiosity.

3-7-14 362
Sarah Conover’s book, “Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents” features the story, “The Two Teachers and Tea.”

After the story, we enjoyed modeling, “empty cups” with terra-cotta clay.  As always, we shared apple juice and freshly baked muffins from the Green Gulch kitchen.

For more about beginner’s mind, read Shunryu Suzuki Roshi‘s classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Our next program is Sunday, April 6th.  We meet near the zendo at 10:00 am.  Hope to see you there!

Breathing with Anchor Words

felt flowersTomorrow at Om School, we’ll practice mindful breathing with the anchor words,  “breathing in,” and “breathing out.”

We’ll imagine ourselves as flowers with petals open as we breathe in… and petals closed as we breathe out… then illustrate what we imagined in our Mindful Schools workbooks.

We’ll recite Thich Nhat Hanh‘s gatha for mindful breathing:

“Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.”

Then we’ll enjoy a felt-flower sewing project using this tutorial.   We’ll try to connect our breath with each stitch.  Breathing in: the needle goes down.  Breathing out: the needle comes back up.  Each flower petal receives two stitches.

These “anchor words” come to us from the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing – or Anapanasati Sutra — an ancient text that can be read here.

I’ll post photos of the children’s work here and on our Facebook page.  Be sure to stop back by!

Ocean Breathing, Mindful Breathing

IMG_1594Last week at Om School, the children practiced mindful breathing and enjoyed drawing what they discovered in their Mindful Schools workbooks.

First we put on our Mountain Bodies.  Then we opened our Fox Ears.  Next we just breathed normally… in and out… calm and at ease.  We call this our Ocean Breathing.

After a moment of breathing like this together, kids put one hand in the air — then placed it on their belly.  We continued to breathe like this for a few moments.  Some children noticed that their hand was moving up and down, in and out, with their belly.

Next, we placed one hand on our chest.  Breathing normally, some children noticed that their chest expands and contracts with each inhale and exhale.  Some children did not feel any movement here… so we tried something else.

mindful breathingI asked children to place a hand under their nose and see if they felt anything.  This one worked for everyone.  We breathed together like this for three breaths.  Then I asked the kids to draw what they experienced.

Why mindful breathing?  As Deborah Schoeberlein, author of, “Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness,” writes in this article:

“Practicing mindfulness enhances cognitive functioning (including memory, concentration and performance), improves emotion regulation and resilience, increases self-awareness (including of one’s own stress level) and promotes relaxation for the body as well as rest for the mind (including sleep).”

To my Om School kids and families — don’t forget that, in honor of President’s Week, we don’t have class this Wednesday, February 19th.  Until then, I hope you’re enjoying your practice!

With metta,
Chelsea

Mindful Bodies, Mindful Listening

IMG_1551Last week at Om School, children began working with the Mindful Schools workbooks.  Lesson One of this research-based curriculum introduces kids to mindful bodies and mindful listening.

We began by sitting upright and tall like a solid mountain.  Children sat like this for a moment with eyes open and then tried sitting like a mountain with eyes closed.  We noticed that it became very quiet while we sat with eyes closed.

This led us to the second part of the lesson, Mindful Listening.  To help us listen mindfully, I gave the kids the image of putting on Fox Ears.  Fox listens very deeply.  He can hear the sound of mice deep beneath the snow… and in summer, he can even hear the sound of grapes growing.  We have to be very still to listen like fox.  We also have to listen not just with our ears, but also with our heart and way down into our belly.

Mindful BodyNext we listened with the bell.  We listened with eyes open and then with eyes closed.  When we couldn’t hear the sound any more, we raised our hands.  With eyes closed, the bell seemed to sound for a very long time.

Finally, we closed our eyes and listened to the sounds outside of our classroom and inside our own bodies.  We heard the sound of the rain, an airplane going by, and some children even heard their own heart beating.

At today’s class we’ll explore mindful breathing.  We’ll also continue to expand on the themes of mindful listening and mindful speech with folk tales, and discover what’s happening on the farm.

I’m posting more photos of the children’s work on our Facebook page.  Be sure to stop by and enjoy these little treasures.

With metta,
Chelsea

Mindfulness of Breath

Today the Om School kids practiced mindfulness of breathing. We began by sitting upright and tall like a mountain.  Then we placed one hand on our belly.  We noticed that our belly moves while we breathe — in and out… out and in.  Next, something amazing happened!  We began to feel calm and peaceful inside.

Look what happens to Elmo when he remembers his belly breathing…

Raindrops, Cherry Blossoms and Ryōkan

white cherryWe celebrated the mid-way point to spring yesterday with a new season of Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. 

The first part of the teacher’s talk featured the Soto monk Ryōkan who lived much of his life as a hermit.  He’s remembered for his calligraphy, poetry, love of children, and eccentric ways… playing games and filling his rice bowl with violets and dandelions.

After the talk, we walked through the light rain noticing cherry blossoms and daffodils in bloom.

Children were then guided through a short meditation… listening to the rain and the sound of the bell…  noticing in-breath, out-breath, and the gap in between.

IMG_1526Older children were then invited to try calligraphy and brushstroke with ink.  Younger children used crayons to draw what they noticed on the walk and their experience of listening to the rain.

We read the book, “No Ordinary Apple” — a story about mindful eating… then enjoyed apple juice and apple muffins prepared earlier that morning by some of the children in the Green Gulch kitchen.

Our next program meets Sunday, March 2nd.  We meet outside the zendo at 10am.  Advanced registration is not required.  Participating families are invited to stay for lunch in the dining hall.

Hope to see you next time!

With metta,
Chelsea

No Ordinary Apple

I have this book out from the library right now — and it is so clever!  I can’t wait to share it with the Om School kids next week.

The kids have been enjoying eating meditation with apples each day before class this semester.  We’ve been smelling, touching, tasting and even listening to our apples before eating them oh-so-slowly.  Take a peek inside this book… you may never see an apple the same way again.

Breath Awareness with Children: Finding the Gap

waning crescent moonThe Om School kids have been working with moon phases this semester.  We’re keeping journals with observations and verses for practice.  This is a fun way to keep our mindfulness practice consistent  and to become more aware of our interrelatedness with nature.

Because tonight is the new or dark moon, I shared this guided meditation yesterday in class.  I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

“Sit comfortably with your back supported.  You can sit in a chair or on the floor.  You can even try this exercise lying down; however, this might make you sleepy!  It’s best if we stay awake during this exercise! 

Breathe normally.  Notice where you can feel your breath.  Can you feel your breath under your nose?  In your chest?  In your belly?  Place a hand on your belly and see what happens.  Do you notice your belly rising and falling?  See how your belly gets bigger with your in-breath and smaller with your out-breath.  Stay with your breathing like this for a moment.  Notice the rising and falling of breath – in and out… deep and slow… like waves on the sea.  Don’t try to control your breath.  Just notice how it feels.  It may slow down on its own.  We can call this our Ocean Breathing.

With your hands by your sides, continue Ocean Breathing for a minute or maybe even two.

Now, let’s focus our attention on our in-breath.  As we breathe in, we can say quietly to ourselves:

“Breathing in: I am aware of my in-breath.”

And as we breathe out, we say:

“Breathing out: I am aware of my out-breath.”

Simple enough, right?  We can even shorten the phrases to:

“IN.  OUT.”

Let’s try this a few times.

Now let’s try something new.  What happens in between breathing in and breathing out?  Can you keep your attention there?  Notice that point where the in-breath transforms into the out-breath.  Notice what is there — or what is not there.  It’s sort of a gap.  

Continue breathing normally and notice the gap between the in-breath and the out-breath.  It’s like a tiny break – a beautiful rest as one thing continues into another.  It’s like the dark moon pausing in stillness before beginning anew.”

The Pause Between

candlemas verseA remarkable synchronicity is taking place this week.  We’re coming to the mid-way point to spring under a new moon.  Waldorf schools celebrate this mid-way point as Candlemas.  In ancient times, the holiday was honored as Imbolc – which means, “in the belly” and refers to the lambing season and the earth’s quickening.  The Celts honored the goddess Brigid at this time – goddess of hearth and home, of poetry, sacred fire, and water.

We know this holiday by another name: Groundhog Day.  It’s the time for peeking our heads out of our wintery dens and noticing the first, oh-so-subtle signs of spring.  Just beneath the earth surface, life is beginning to stir.

This mid-way point to spring feels like the pause between the in-breath of winter and the out-breath of spring.

The moon is also in the place in-between this week.  The new or dark moon is the quiet moment between waxing and waning… the gap where we can take a rest — and where we might just notice something unnameable.

In the next few posts, I’ll share some stories, verses, poems, and a guided meditation to enrich your experience of this beautiful time of year.  If you were able to attend yesterday’s class, I hope you enjoyed the bonfire, let go of difficulties with the waning moon, and let the light of your awareness shine with the coming of spring.

With metta,
Chelsea