Tag Archives: community

Winter Solstice Spiral

“Look for a little light anywhere in the field of darkness and ask that it may increase.” –Joan Halifax Roshi

When I look to nature,  deep winter feels like a sacred time.  Grandfather Sun is completing his journey across the sky.  He is old now and his light is fading.  Nights are long and the time of rest is upon us.

In October, the children in our weekly mindfulness classes honored their departed ones with an ancestor’s ritual.  We noticed that giving attention to impermanence gave rise to a deep sense of appreciation for our own short lives.  In November, we turned towards gratitude with the coming of Thanksgiving.  Now, with the winter solstice approaching, we’re turning inwards.  One student, an eight year old girl, has given us a new phrase for this deep place: direct darkness.

Earth-based traditions tell us that it is from this darkest place that the light is born.  On winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Grandfather Sun completes his journey.  The Baby Sun is born at dawn.  These mythologies speak to a wisdom in each of us.

In the Zen tradition, the awakening of the Buddha is celebrated in December.  It is said that after sitting through the night, upon seeing the morning star, the Buddha realized awakening and exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s it! That’s me that’s shining so brightly. How wondrous, how wondrous! All beings share this indwelling light. What an astonishing thing has been realized!”

This winter, we’ll celebrate this indwelling light with a candlelight spiral walk.   We’ll meet inside for quiet songs and storytelling before walking the spiral together.   In quiet walking meditation, each child first walks the spiral turning inward, gathering light at the center, and then walks the spiral turning outward, bringing her light back into the world.

We are excited to join together with Stone Creek Zen Center to offer this celebration for all ages to the general community.  We ask that families please register in advance or contact Chelsea for more information.

Please bring your own candle in a wind-proof jar or apple votive.   Suggested donation:  sliding scale $3-$10/per person.  Your generosity helps ensure that programs like these will continue to be available in our community for a long time.

Please register in advance here.  Thank you!

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)

The Mindful Art Program at Om School this Saturday!

mindfulness and the artsWould you like to learn more about the Mindful Art Program we’ll be sharing with pre-teens this Saturday at our Family Mindfulness Day? Emily Tara Weiner, MA, MFTI, framed this as a wellness program that focuses on cultivation of mindfulness skills, stress reduction, social and emotional learning, and self-compassion.  While not a therapy program, it’s largely based on Dr. Laury Rappaport’s Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy (FOAT) methods and is featured in her book, Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies — available here.

We still have a few more spaces in Saturday’s PRE-TEEN program.  Be sure to register in advance… our program for children 8 and under is now wait-list only!

Family Mindfulness Day: Saturday, March 22, 2014

Registration is now open for Family Mindfulness Day taking place at Sophia’s Garden Saturday, March 22, 2014.

We’ll honor spring, practice together, and enjoy the gift of Lakota medicine man, Steve Stonearrow’s storytelling.  Please help make this day a success by spreading the word!

Family Mindfulness Day

Please register in advance for this event.  Thank you!

Summer Mindfulness Workshop

I’ve been getting feedback that a ONE day summer workshop would be more accessible to families this late in summer. 

Look for a revised flyer coming soon with the date changed to JULY 31.  No one will be turned away for lack of funds.  Please — just come and join us on the farm for a day of summer mindfulness.

This fun one-day workshop introduces children to mindfulness practice in the lush gardens of a working, biodynamic farm.  Enjoy storytelling, movement, connection with nature, and other kid-friendly contemplative practices.  Bring lunch and something to share for a communal picnic among organic apple trees and fragrant herbs.  Ages 5-11.  Open for registration now.  

DATE: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
TIME: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
PLACE: Sophia’s Garden
4038 Green Valley School Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Cost: $40 – $80 

Remember, all programs are sliding scale and no one will be turned away for a lack of funds. Request information and register here.   

Looking forward to practicing with you!
With metta,
Chelsea

Welcome!

Welcome to Om School’s new blog spot.  Thanks for stopping by. 

This has been an exciting week.  I’ve been working hard to complete the new website while reaching out to the community in search of a home for our local program.  I’m happy to announce that the website is up and our program has a home!   

We’re bringing children together to create an ongoing cooperative program in the lush gardens of a working, biodynamic farm in Sebastopol, California.  Children will learn and practice mindfulness together among organic apple orchards and fragrant herbs.  We’ll care for the land using biodynamic principles encouraging a view of nature as an interconnected whole. 

A one-day Summer Mindfulness Workshop at the farm is coming up on July 29th.   Session I of the ongoing cooperative program begins on the farm September 4, 2013. 

Also beginning September 5, I’ll be teaching a ten-week Mindfulness for Children class at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center.   We’ll also create an organic community garden and learn to see nature’s hidden connections. 

All programs are designed to help children cultivate self-awareness, build empathy, reduce stress, and develop self-regulation skills.  The content is delivered through research-based curriculum, story-telling, games, Waldorf-inspired handwork, movement, connection with nature, and other fun, kid-friendly contemplative practices.    

Class sizes are limited to twelve children ages 5-11.  All are open for registration now.  Find more information and register on our new website or visit us on Facebook.

Looking forward to practicing with you!  
With metta, 
Chelsea